It’s Family Day here in Ontario, so I’m taking the day off to spend time with my significant other. I’ll be back next week with a new post.
It’s Family Day here in Ontario, so I’m taking the day off to spend time with my significant other. I’ll be back next week with a new post.
Last week SpaceX successfully launched the Falcon Heavy rocket into space. The mission put one of Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadsters on a trip to the sun, and verified that a private corporation could fund the launching of rockets that brings us one step closer to making space travel a possibility for the average person.
The last time NASA put a shuttle into space was 2011. Since then, the shuttle program has gone quiet, as NASA has cooperated with other international space agencies to send astronauts and supplies to the International Space Station.
To be honest, I almost missed the launch. I was vaguely aware that SpaceX was set to test another launch (after a previous attempt failed in explosion), and only joined in on waiting for the launch with about 24-hours to go. But something about the launch spoke to me. It was exciting on a level I haven’t felt in a long time.
I suppose I was too young to appreciate the shuttle program when it was in full swing. I have been to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and I have see a shuttle up close. I’ve even met former astronauts, but I never felt the same excitement that I felt last week as I (while in a meeting taking minutes) watched the rocket’s launch sequence ignited the jets and sent the tube of fuel skyward. I felt emotional, and somehow connected to the quest to illuminate the cosmos to uncover its mysteries.
While it’s too early to say that SpaceX has achieved something unique or set humanity on a course towards space travel, I can say that for a brief moment last week, a lot more things seemed possible.
If you have a chance, I highly recommend watching the launch and learning more about the program. The final minute of the launch sequence starts at the 21 minute mark.
The job I have at the college is my first full time job after I finished university. Prior to the position I’m in, I have worked only full-time hours on contracts and a smattering of part time jobs. I thought, like many others, coming out of university that I knew what it would mean to have a job, be an employee, and work responsibly. I wouldn’t say I was unprepared to enter the workforce, but it would be charitable to say that I had a lot to learn, and many beliefs to update.
This is, in part, why I decided to occasionally write thoughts in a series of posts loosely connected with the theme “Skills Worth Developing.” There are many hard skills that employees should pick up over time to help them do their jobs better and advance in their careers. Organizations like Coursera, Udemy, Lynda, etc. are excellent resources to help one pick up those kinds of skills. But many other skills (usually dubbed “soft skills”) are usually picked up through experience and self reflection. This blog serves both to force me to write, but also to force me to make permanent any self-reflections I’ve had, and these reflections might be valuable to others.
The last time I discussed Skills Worth Developing, I discussed the merits of storytelling as a communication tool. This time, I want to reflect on a phrase I heard a lot when I first started working – “That’s not my problem” or “That’s not my job.”
You might be wondering why I lump this in with the notion of skills, instead of some other attribute, such as attitude. True, something like this will overlap with one’s “attitude” while on the job, but I view this as a skill because it’s a habit and ability that can be modified over time, practiced, and strategies can be employed to use it in the workplace. Therefore, I loosely connect it under the skills area that should be developed and practiced over time.
One other observation I want to make is that this skill – avoiding falling into the “That’s not my problem” mentality – is something I exercised as a beginner. I think this is a fantastic skill to develop early in your career, but I’m not entirely sure of it’s value when you are well-established in your role. The value of this skill is that it increases your value to the company when you are still differentiating yourself. The same can not be said for someone who is either well-established in their company or field, where their value is tied directly to their ability to focus on problems that they can uniquely solve. In those instances, it’s probably a better strategy to limit distractions from your primary role and duties.
And so, we come to the problem of “That’s not my problem.” I found early on that many employees in a work environment can take on the “not my problem” mentality for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they were burned in the past and now refuse to extend themselves. Some feel overworked and overstretched. Some are lazy. For whatever reason, they resist helping others in their duties.
I find two issues with this kind of mentality. First, it goes against the spirit of cooperation, collaboration, and teamwork. The workplace is a team of employees who are working towards common goals to advance the interests of the organization (while hopefully advancing their own personal interests in parallel). Any time someone says to a coworker “that’s not my problem,” what they are in fact saying is “your problems aren’t important enough for me to take an interest.” They end up placing themselves above the interests of their coworkers and the organization. I’m not saying that this is wrong per se – I am sympathetic to the ideas that this mentality is easy for organizations to exploit, and that there is no moral imperative to place the company’s interests above your own, so you should guard against it taking advantage of you. What I am saying is that taking this as a default position undermines the team. Everyone is supposed to work together to solve problems and strive to the company’s mission. If you don’t want to do that, what’s the point of working at that company? I would hardly think that it’s just in service of the paycheque.
The second issue I have with this attitude is it closes you off to development. I directly attribute my success so far to my willingness to learn outside of my prescribed job. By helping others with their tasks (so long as it does not prevent me from taking care of my own job area), I am able to develop new hard skills and learn about areas laterally and vertically from my position. I am better able to see how my role fits within the larger context of our department, which continuously exposes you to new opportunities for growth and development. You become more valuable to the team and you strengthen your ties with your coworkers. When you are just starting out, this is a valuable way of integrating yourself and setting yourself up for advancement.
When you ignore the impulse to say “that’s not my problem,” you acknowledge that your coworkers are people with their own problems, concerns, hangups and worries, while also setting yourself up as a person of value for the team. It is a perfect opportunity to step up and be noticed in your workplace.
That is why I think resisting the impulse to say “that’s not my problem” is a skill worth developing.
This blog post is not a paid sponsorship.
On Friday, I completed my last training mission for the Android version of the Zombies, Run! 5K Training app by Six to Start. While this is supposed to be an 8-week training program, I’ve been at it since mid-October. Having completed the program, I wanted to give some of my thoughts on the experience.
Overall, I loved it!
Imagine taking an audiobook about a zombie outbreak, and attaching a step-counter/GPS tracker to it. That’s what the app is at its core.
You play the silent hero, Runner 5. The adventure opens with you in a helicopter bound for the Town of Able. While en route, your helicopter is shot out of the sky, and you are forced to make your way to the settlement with the help of Able’s radio operator, Sam. Once you make it to town, you meet a diverse cast of characters who you “interact” with throughout the 8-week plan.
The bulk of your interactions take place with Sam and Maxine, the town’s doctor, who also serves as your training coach while you build stamina and prepare to take your place as one of the town’s Runners. The Runners are a group of people who are sent out on missions outside the guarded walls of town to run messages, look for survivors, gather supplies, and occasionally serve as decoy bait to lure zombies away.
While managing a zombie outbreak is bad enough, you still have the lingering question of who would shoot down a helicopter from the middle of the zombie-infested countryside, and more urgently, who is stealing supplies from the town’s quartermaster.
I found the story very immersive. It brought me back to my old radio drama days from high school, with well-acted characters and sound effects to help you believe that you are being chased by zombies. The creators took time to ensure the voice acting was well-done as you rely on the characters to help you experience the story. There is no narrator telling you a story, but instead the story unfolds around you while you run.
Despite the fact that this is a training app, there is a surprising amount of story given to you. You learn a bit of the backstory of the main players, and there is a lot of world building going on about life and the history of the zombie outbreak. You learn a little bit about the politics of the various surrounding towns, and you get swept up in the human drama. Indeed, your final mission is not just a 5k run, but a race against the clock to make a critical delivery to someone you’ll never meet but means the world to a close companion of yours.
I found the app easy to use and well-designed. As I mentioned above, the app is basically an audiobook and a step-counter. There is a bit more to it, but those are just extras that help with customization. The app tracks your progress in one of three ways – a GPS tracker that lays out your run via a Google Maps integration, a step-counter if you want to use a treadmill, and an estimated distance tracker for use on rowing machines and ellipticals (how many minutes it takes you to go 1-kilometre). I chose to use the step-counter feature despite using an elliptical, which meant my in-app distances were skewed, however I corrected the distances with the tracking done by the elliptical itself. I also used my Fitbit to track caloric expenditure and heart rate, since they were calibrated to my height and weight.
The best part about the app is that you can choose to use an external audio player when the app isn’t talking to you. I used both Stitcher and Spotify and found that the integrations were smooth. This allows you to listen to music on the run. When the training app needs to deliver information to you, it pauses what you are listening to and continues the story, before switching back to your preferred audio. Even taking phone calls mid-app worked well. There was only one time where my music didn’t start back up after I took a phone call.
One note of caution is that the first 3 or so weeks of the app are free to use, but you need to pay a nominal fee ($5.49) to unlock the rest of the missions. While this might be annoying, or a bit of a barrier for people, I liked it because a.) I’m in favour of companies making money off of users to keep creating good content; and b.) letting you use the app for free lets you test it out. By the time I was ready for week 4, I wanted to find out what happens next, and I thought a buy-in of around $5 was worth it to continue on the adventure. The full (non-training) app uses a subscription model, but still allows you to trying things out before you need to unlock the full app.
I found the 8-week program to be a little easy for me, but using an elliptical meant that there was only so much crossover I would experience. If I were to have tried running, I suspect the app’s difficulty would have been scaled more appropriately to me (and my knees would have taken a beating). But the main purpose of the training is similar to most other “couch to 5K” training programs – get you moving a couple days per week while the difficulty is slowly ramped up. I appreciate this approach, as it is enough to challenge you, but easy enough to keep you coming back for more.
To keep the difficulty scaled for me, I would often run through rest breaks, and I ensured that I kept the resistance level at a good place to maintain a heart rate of around 140bpm. To ensure I was running fast enough, I monitored the elliptical’s RPMs, and used the following markers:
Before each mission, you can review what the day’s exercise routine will look like. The training sessions involve a combination of walking and running periods, and some sort of ancillary movement to develop your leg muscles, such as knee-ups, skipping, and body-weight squats. Some days are straight training, where you get little story development, but learn more about the people you are interacting with. However, some training days morph into mini missions where you need to divert due to zombies or pick up critical supplies nearby. One time, you even risk you life to help a downed runner in the field. This is probably what kept me so engaged. If it were just a disembodied voice telling me when to walk and run, I doubt I would find it very engaging and would have likely lost interest quickly. However, because the training prompts are integrated into a narrative, and the characters are cheering your development on (because you are expected to take you place as a member of the community), it breaks the monotony of running up into more interesting chunks.
I’m not entirely sure to what degree I improved my cardiovascular health. Because I didn’t feel like I struggled with the difficulty, it’s hard to measure my progress. The best I can estimate is that my running distances did increase over time, even if you were to control for the duration of walking in the training cycles and the differences in run duration from week to week. Despite having not measured with any amount of accuracy what my abilities were pre-Zombies, I’m fairly confident that I am in a better state of cardiovascular health having completed the training program.
If I have one complaint, it’s that the narrative move from the training app to the full app ends up restarting the story a bit. The first mission in both the training app and the full app is the same, meaning your story doesn’t really continue after the training app. I suspect that once you start running the story missions, things will feel more integrated, but I was a little sad to have to “meet” Sam and Maxine for the first time again after having “developed” a relationship with them while I trained. This is a relatively small nitpick on my part because narrative and story are important to me, but it’s not something that takes away from the experience.
I have already recommended the app to friends of mine, and I officially recommend it here. I got well more than $5 in value from the app’s minor cost. This is a well-made app that is easy to use, and integrates well into my exercise routine. It makes exercise fun and engaging and the story is compelling enough to keep me coming back for more punishment. If you are looking for a way to help you commit to a cardio routine, but you are starting off from scratch, this is a great option if you don’t mind running from zombies.
This is it! I’ve finally hit the end of the sleep challenge and I can finally look back at a year of data and see if I can spot anything interesting from the data. This post will give the quarterly update from October through December, and then I will look at the results from the entire year.
For those just coming on-board with this post, in 2017 I set out to track my sleep each month with the target of sleeping for at least 7-hours. I used a Fitbit Charge HR to track my sleep and I gave monthly updates on my progress. I also used a few quarterly updates that looked at data over longer periods of time to see what sorts of trends and patterns I could extract from the results. While I wanted to try and maximize my sleep, in truth I am terrible at keeping a nightly routine, so at the mid-point of the experiment, I set the goal of trying to get at least 10 nights in each month where I hit my target of 7-hours.
To see a recap, you can go to the individual posts below:
You can also see my quarterly updates:
First, let us look at the fourth quarter’s results.
Fourth Quarter – October through December
The fourth quarter results fall in line with what I’ve been seeing over the course of the year. Sundays prove to be the most consistent night of 7+ hours of sleep, followed by Saturday. Monday usually gets a high number of hits, but this time around it appears that I’m not sleeping as well when I transition from weekend to work week. I don’t have an explanation for this, other than I probably am going to bed too late (as opposed to lost sleep due to anxiety of going to work the next day).
And now, time for the final reveal!
Sleep Results for 2017
The grand total for the year are:
January – 4
February – 8
March – 6
April – 7
May – 4
June – 7
July – 11
August – 11
September – 9
October – 8
November – 7
December – 10
Out of the 365 nights of sleep for 2017, I hit my target 92 times, for a 25% success rate. This is a very strict number, which reflects poorly on the overall experiment, but one bit comfort I take from this is that, as I have pointed out a few times over the course of this challenge, the data is skewed when we look at the time I spent asleep, versus the amount of time the Fitbit tracker tracked me as asleep. Any amount of sleep disturbance or restlessness meant that the device wasn’t counting it as sleep time. So, while I might have been asleep for over seven hours if I had any kind of restless sleep, the quality sleep tracked came in under 7-hours.
Is there another way of seeing the data to determine if the 25% rate is overly skewed?
Time spent Sleeping
We can adjudicate this by looking at the actual time I was asleep, versus the target sleep. This way, any nights where I slept more than 7-hours would pull my averages up and cancel out some of the nights where I slept less than 7-hours.
For 2017, the Fitbit tracked me as sleeping 2,137-hours. If I assume 7-hours for all 365 days, this would give us 2,555 hours of sleep. Viewed from this perspective, I hit 84% of my target sleep, with only a 418-hour deficit of sleep spread over the 12 months.
The problem with tracking only the successes throughout the year is that it ignored any sleep that falls under 7-hours. Month over month, my progress tended to looked bad and reflected poorly on my ability to set goals and maintain progress. While it’s true that I was failing in hitting absolute targets of sleep, the presentation almost suggested that if I didn’t hit my sleep target it was because I wasn’t sleeping at all.
So, while I was only 25% successful in hitting targets, I was able to get 84% of the sleep the target would imply.
One note of caution – if I’ve learned anything these last two years, it’s that I’ve learned and reflected on what it feels like to be sleep deprived. Running a theoretical sleep deficit of 418-hours for a year might not seem bad, but in practice is something to be concerned about. Sleep deprivation has consequences that affect me in many ways, such as my ability to resist temptation, my productivity at work, the likelihood that I will exercise, and my interpersonal interactions with friends and family. There was one time where in my sleep-deprived state, I let a door swing shut before my dog was fully through the threshold, and it caught him in the rear paw. Despite a yelp of pain from him, there was thankfully no physical damage to his paw. Still, I felt terrible about my carelessness and it was a reminder that my ability to focus and pay attention is compromised when I don’t sleep.
Tracking my sleep for this blog was an interesting experience. I do not plan to continue giving regular updates as I progress through 2018, though I will still be monitoring my progress in my personal notebooks. I found a lot of value in seeing the aggregate results. The monthly updates were mostly in line with my intuition, but it was still good to objectively see how poorly I am with sleep.
It will be an ongoing work of progress to do better. The main takeaways from this experiment are that,
1.) I’m terrible at maintaining a disciplined nightly routines to go to bed at a reasonable time;
2.) working at the bar, even 2-nights per week, dramatically impacts my sleep during the week; and
3.) I need to pay more attention to the things in and out of the bedroom that cause disturbances in my sleep (such a the dog jumping on the bed, evening alcohol consumption, and potential sleep apnea due to my weight).
There are many avenues I can explore to improve the quality and quantity of sleep I get each night. Perhaps, I will explore them in time. However, it’s time to put down the measuring devices and enjoy a bit on unquantified time.
Thanks for following this journey of sleep.
Another year of reading has finished, so it’s time to take stock of how I did for 2017. While I’m not an advocate of reading purely for the sake of speed or volume, I do challenge myself to see how many books I can get through during the year, if for nothing else than to ensure I’m carving out time to read. For my 2016 results, check back to my post on What I read in 2016.
This year, I managed to get through 44 books and almost 14,000 pages, which is on par with my results from last year. I posted my top list of books I read this year a few posts back, if you want to check it out.
I would say a little more than half of these books are audio books, as I decided to get an Audible subscription, and a friend has been kind enough to supply me with Terry Prachett books. I have significantly picked up on the amount of fiction I’m reading, which was a deliberate choice since I noticed I consumed a lot of business and self-help books last year.
|1||Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less||Greg McKeown||272|
|2||The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck||Mark Manson||224|
|3||Leaders Eat Last||Simon Sinek||368|
|4||Awaken the Giant Within||Tony Robbins||544|
|5||$100 Startup||Chris Guillebeau||304|
|6||Tools of Titans||Tim Ferriss||736|
|7||American Gods||Neil Gaiman||558|
|8||The View from the Cheap Seats||Neil Gaiman||544|
|9||The Consolations of Philosophy||Alain de Botton||272|
|10||Catching the Big Fish||David Lynch||208|
|11||The Colour of Magic||Terry Pratchett||288|
|12||The Path to Purpose||William Damon||240|
|13||The Light Fantastic||Terry Pratchett||288|
|14||The 80/20 Pinciple||Richard Koch||288|
|15||The Complacent Class||Tyler Cowen||256|
|16||How Proust Can Change Your Life||Alain de Botton||208|
|17||Equal Rites||Terry Pratchett||282|
|18||No Fears, No Excuses||Larry Smith||272|
|20||The Death of Expertise||Tom Nichols||240|
|21||Never Split the Difference||Chris Voss||288|
|23||On Writing||Stephen King||288|
|24||The Happiness Project||Gretchen Rubin||368|
|25||Reading the Humanities||John Greenwood||156|
|26||Spark||John J. Ratey||304|
|27||Wyrd Sisters||Terry Pratchett||336|
|28||Managing Oneself||Peter F. Drucker||72|
|30||The Checklist Manifesto||Atul Gawande||240|
|31||Total Recall||Arnold Schwarzenegger||656|
|32||Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual||Jocko Willink||208|
|33||I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had||Tony Danza||272|
|34||Guards! Guards!||Terry Pratchett||416|
|36||Side Hustle||Chris Guillebeau||272|
|37||The Productivity Project||Chris Bailey||304|
|38||Moving Pictures||Terry Pratchett||400|
|39||Mating in Captivity||Esther Perel||272|
|40||Finding Ultra||Rich Roll||400|
|41||Reaper Man||Terry Pratchett||288|
|42||The Art of Learning||Josh Waitzkin||288|
|43||Machine Man||Max Barry||288|
|44||The Road to Character||David Brooks||320|
All in all, I am very happy with the results, and I am looking forward to tackling the growing stack of books I have in my office for 2018.
My November sleep check-in fell short of my target of 7-hours, so I was hoping to rally stronger in December to close out the year-long experiment. Let’s see how I did for December.
I managed to hit my target of 10 nights, but only just barely. This is thanks in large part to my time off from work from December 23rd through the end of the year (5/9 nights). One item of note is that I also managed to get 3 nights on the 14th, 16th, and 17th (Thursday, Saturday and Sunday), which is unusual for me.
On the other hand, I still had long stretches of time where poor bed-time habits and a lack of routine caused me to fall short of my target. My lack of intentionality nearly lost me the challenge for another month. This has been a persistent problem with the sleep challenge all through 2017, which suggests a lack of priority in sleep overall (though I’ll leave that reflection for the 2017 Sleep Review).
At the very least, it feels good to close 2017 and kick off 2018 on a positive note.
Happy New Year!