2017 Sleep Check-In

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

Q4 sleep
Note: 1’s denote nights where I hit my target.

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
Total: 92

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.

Screenshot_2018-01-21-20-36-37

 

sleep
*Note: for simplicity, I rounded the sleep values to the nearest hour.

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.

Moving Forward

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.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

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What I Read in 2017

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.

Title Author Pages
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
19 Mort Terry Pratchett 272
20 The Death of Expertise Tom Nichols 240
21 Never Split the Difference Chris Voss 288
22 Sourcery Terry Pratchett 336
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
29 Pyramids Terry Pratchett 308
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
35 Eric Terry Pratchett 160
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
Total: 13904

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.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Ongoing Education and Solving Problems

There is a general perception that going through the formal education process is sufficient for career success.  If you follow the standard formula of secondary school, followed by some form of post-secondary education, whether through trades, college, or through the university, you should have the necessary tools in order to enter the workforce and perform well in most situations.  While this might be true to some degree, I’m willing to bet that if you were to ask people of their thoughts on this process, you’d be met with a certain level of skepticism.  Yes, there are some critical problems with how we view and use higher education, but on the whole, I think the missing piece is this: the role of higher education should be to give students the ability to think and learn for themselves (often concurrent with learning some kind of job-market skill).

The value of higher education is the exposure to ideas and of ways of thinking about things.  By exposing students to ideas and problems they’ve never encountered, you are giving them experience that they can use to navigate life after the classroom.  I think most people get too hung up on the job-market skills and end up de-emphasizing the other stuff referred to as “the humanities” or “breadth electives.”  What is important is for students to be able to cross over the threshold of their vocational training and learn to navigate in systems of knowledge that they aren’t comfortable with so that they can learn to gather information, define problems, and test solutions for things that are applicable to them.

I have a small example of this in action for myself.  Recently, the provincial college system was brought to a halt during a labour dispute.  Once the teachers came back to work, everyone set to work on figuring out how to carry-on and salvage the remainder of the semester.  One of my tasks was to track student requests for accommodation once it was determined that the holiday break was being scaled back to allow students to complete the fall semester.  If students had made previous plans for travel, asking them to cancel their plans (which often was at a huge financial loss to the students) was something the college did not wish to do.  So, the goal is to see where we can find solutions for students missing class in the revised schedule.  My job is to track the requests from students and track the faculties responses.

I wanted a simple way of tracking the information electronically on spreadsheets, and avoid copying huge numbers of cells worth of information into emails.  My solution was to set up a database.  I’ve never created a database before (only used existing ones), so I turned to resources available for employees at my work to teach myself the skills.  I set up a simple database, laid a form over it to allow for a cleaner user experience, and created standardized Word documents with placeholder values that would automatically call information from the database into the document for me to email out streamlined messages to faculty and students.

I shared this database tool across the college, and have been receiving very positive feedback from people who are using it.  I even recorded a 30-minute tutorial video on how to use the database and manage the information, then hosted the video online for other employees to use at their discretion.

My educational background is in philosophy, which is quite different from data process management.  However, through philosophy I learned skills such as how to self-direct my learning, how to define problems, and how to test solutions.  These skills are what has allowed me to come up with a way of managing all the information coming at me, and how to teach that system to others for their own use.  Being able to help others, and sharing something that they value, makes me feel really good and engaged at work, and I’m happy to be able to help others do their jobs more easily.

I understand that students often don’t have the luxury to think broadly about how their skills fit in with a larger view of pedagogy, but I think it’s important to remember that the specific processes, tools, and systems we learn at school are the micro expressions of overall deeper ways that we live, understand, and view our lives.  Taking a narrow view of the value of education tends to miss the proverbial forest for the trees.  The point of higher education is not just about vocational training and preparing people to enter the economy, but instead it’s main purpose should be viewed as a way of preparing people to become better problem solvers.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Ellipticals and Zombies!

In my search to find exercise routines that I can make stick around long enough to build habits from, I am experimenting with a running app and a new piece of home equipment.  My fiancee and I have recently purchased an elliptical machine for our home.  While I was initially hesitant about the cost when I was already paying for my gym membership, I have since come around to the convenience of using the machine at home.

One issue I’ve had with fully embracing exercising at home is my limitations.  Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I drop our dog off for daytime boarding, since both my fiancee and I work during the day (it gives our dog some socializing time and exercise).  This means that I have to be out the door a bit earlier than I otherwise would need to be, which cuts into time I could be at the gym.

I have been going to the gym Tuesday mornings for the last month and a half, but Thursdays are a write-off because I work at the bar Wednesday nights and don’t get to bed until 1am at the earliest.  Outside of weekend, this means that my morning exercises are limited to body-weight work, or the rowing machine that currently serves as a clothes rack.

Enter: the Elliptical

The elliptical, on the other hand, allows me to jump on for 30-45 minutes in the morning, then I can immediately shower and get ready for work and still get out the door in time.

(Note: I realize that these are not good excuses for why a more disciplined approach to my morning wouldn’t fix my problems.  While this is true, I’m trying to address these shortcomings with solutions, rather than relying on a fantasy alternative reality where I am a morning person.)

The elliptical is also good because it’s low impact on my knees.  I’ve recently discovered that 330lbs is the magical number where my knees are starting to hurt by the end of the day.  Ideally, I want to get  back into running, like I had done in undergrad, but I know that my knees and shins wouldn’t hold up to the abuse of trodding at my current weight.  The elliptical provides a good middle-ground to improve my cardio in the interim.

ACK! Zombies! RUN!

The last hurdle is that cardio is pretty boring.  This is where the zombies come in.  I’ve downloaded the Zombies, Run! 5k Training app (this is not a paid sponsorship; I just like the app).  It’s a fun spin on the Couch to 5k (C25K) training systems that gradually build a person’s endurance over a multi-week period to get them from complete novice to a 5km run through weekly drills and timed runs.

I’ve used it for a couple of weeks as of writing, and I’ve been enjoying the experience and sharing my “runs.”

My experience with the app have been good so far.  I like that it allows for external audio to play while the app is running.  I run Spotify in the background for music, then the running app interjects periodically to give me instructions, such as when to run and when to walk.  The app makes these instructions fun by forming them in terms of a story about a town fighting for survival during a zombie outbreak, so when you are running, it is from zombies that you can “hear” behind you.  The training is framed as you learning to be a better runner for the town (runner scavenge for supplies out of town, hence why they need to learn to run faster from zombies).  It adds a sense of purpose to the training, and provides a fun context to help you progress the story along.  At its core, it’s an audiobook laid over a GPS/step tracker.

Because I can complete a mission in under an hour without leaving the house, it fits well with my time restrictions in the morning.  I’m enjoying the experience and I hope to keep this going beyond the 8-week training module.  Combining this with lifting weights at the gym a few days a week (or the occasional YouTube lead yoga session), it provides a sense of novelty to keep me engaged in the process.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

Skills Worth Developing – A Primer

I have recently made visits to my alma mater’s Career Centre for some career counselling.  Now that I have established myself solidly at work, I want to start planning the next steps for mid-career moves in a few years.  While I can certainly do a lot of work on my own, I find value in speaking with a professional who can help me work through the process from an objective outsider view.

Part of the process involves reflecting on skills and values.  Not only should I look at the skills I currently have, but I should also start looking towards jobs I’m interested in and analyzing the skills I will need.  This process asks a number of important questions:

  • What skills are required to be successful/effective in my desired position?
  • What skills will I need to develop, and what kind of training/experience will that require?  Is there any lateral movement I can make with existing skills or domains?
  • On what timeline do I need to plan for skill development?
  • (And, critically) Of the skills required of a position I’m looking at, do I really care about the skill or acquiring it?

I’m still in the early stages of this work, but it has gotten me thinking about skills more broadly.  If you spend time around the career or personal development blogospheres, there is a lot of lip-service paid to skills that lead to high paying jobs, especially those concerning STEM.  Oftentimes, I find that these skills are specific bits of knowledge, such as programming and design, but you still see some of the generic skills like communication or critical thinking.

While reflecting on this, I was thinking about skills that I don’t see mentioned often that would still be worth developing as they are cross-domain and useful in many contexts.  And so, from time to time, I will reflect on some of these skills here.  Next week, I will share some reflections on the skill of storytelling.

One thing to note here is that I think these skills are important irrespective of whether they are tied to high-paying work.  Yes, it can be important to seek high compensation for work.  However, my introspection on the topic of career moves is motivated less by wanting more money, and more tied to personal fulfillment.

Yes, I want more money – I am hampered by student loans and I look forward to the day when my comfort margins widen sans debt.  The reason, though, that I went to the career adviser in the first place is because I generally don’t feel satisfied by my work.  I want to feel a sense of purpose and intrinsic achievement in my life, both professionally and personally.  There are many aspects of my life that I am happy with, especially at home.  Where I feel an absence of satisfaction is in the intersections of work, production, and craft.  It’s not about being busy or productive.  It’s about making, producing, and working on interesting problems.  That’s what I feel is missing.

It’s what I intend to explore through thinking about skills worth developing.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

What You Say “No” To

Last week I discussed some thoughts on being busy.  Near the start of the post, I made an off-hand comment about why I’m typically busy:

It’s often less of an issue of seeking achievement, and more the result of me absent-mindedly saying “yes” to obligations without regard to the impact it has on my time and calendar.

This is the perfect example of an answer to those interview questions of “what is a weakness of yours?”  It took a lot of self-reflection to realize that a lot of stuff I do is less because it fits within a plan, and more because it sounded like a cool thing at the time.  It was a habit I formed when I was single and life was simple.  However, as things started piling up, it made it really difficult to prioritize.  The most important things in my life (love, sleep, exercise, etc.) end up taking a back seat to those things that seemed cool when I said “yes” to an ask.

I was watching a video from Jon Call, aka Jujimufu on YouTube, and he was discussing email tips that he uses to stay organized.  However, around the 3:30 mark of the video, he drops a fascinating insight:

“If I said yes…, I’m basically saying ‘no’ to (my wife) Sam, I’m saying ‘no’ to (my friend) Tom, (and) I’m saying no to you guys…”

Whether you are talking about your email inbox, your work, or the important people in your life, it’s important to reflect on what you are saying “no” to when you decide to say “yes.”  It’s a hard lesson that I am still struggling with, and I’m thankful with how patient my loved ones have been.

I invite you to reflect on your own life: what are you saying “no” to?

Stay Awesome,

Ryan

 

“You’re an over-achiever”

Right off the top, I want to make clear that this post is not intended to be a humble-brag.  I’m hoping to use the observation in the title as a jumping-point for a meditation on my career and professional life.

I’m a busy guy.  It’s often less of an issue of seeking achievement, and more the result of me absent-mindedly saying “yes” to obligations without regard to the impact it has on my time and calendar.  I find it satisfying to be involved in all sorts of cool projects, but I also rationally know that “being busy” is a cop out.

Busy people are often flakey.

Busy people often use it as a status marker.

Busy people are often less effective than they believe.

That’s not to say that effective people aren’t busy.  However, I bet that the ratio of effective people to the merely busy is skewed.  But that’s besides the point.

The other day, a coworker and I were talking about career advancement and our track-records for interviewing for jobs and getting turned down.  I commented to my coworker that they could invest more in themselves through courses at the College.  They dismissed the idea as it didn’t fit their current career position (they are mid-career, so the investment in training has a lower return in their mind), but commented that it’s a good strategy for me.  Then they dropped the line from the title:

“You’re an over-achiever.”

The comment was meant in the context of working at the College, working as a bouncer at a bar, teaching, taking a class, podcasting, etc., and it wasn’t meant to be dismissive or condescending.

The funny thing is that I don’t associate “over-achiever” with me.  It’s not that I reject the idea being applied to me, but more that if I’m to associate words to describe me, it’s not one I would have thought of.  My colleague also referred to me as “ambitious,” which I would agree is a closer description of me, except I would code that word to be synonymous with “foolishly hoping for a good outcome”.

The problem I have with the concept of being an “over-achiever” is I associate it more with outcomes instead of process.  “Over-achievers,” to me, get results irrespective of how hard they may or may not work.  I’m critical of my successes because I don’t think I achieve a lot (especially relative to the effort I put in – how busy I am).

That’s the disconnect for me.  I often feel that for all my busyness, I’m not making a lot of headway.  I’m not landing jobs that I interview for, I have a lot of projects that are idle or slow-moving, and I’m constantly filling up my evenings with stuff to do while also wishing I had more downtime.

This might not be a fair evaluation of my professional life, but it’s a reflection of the standards I have on myself.  From a career perspective, I feel adrift and treading water.  Each day slips by as more time I didn’t use wisely towards some further goal.  Having these feelings hasn’t yet translated into action or a change of behaviour, and I don’t know if and when that might happen.

Other people I know (I won’t name names), whom I consider to have achieved something with their professional life, are also called under-achievers by people who know them best.  When I heard that, I compared it to my own life, and felt bad.  If they are under-achievers, what does that mean about me?

All is not lost.  During orientation at the college, I joked with some engineering students that I have two philosophy degrees and three jobs, so clearly I’m beating the odds.  I know that, rationally, I’m doing just fine; that I’m being too hard on myself, or I have unrealistic expectations on myself.  Progression through one’s career is about building (skills, knowledge, connections, etc).  It’s slow and methodical, not characterized by leaps forward.  I need to keep reminding myself of this.

Stay Awesome,

Ryan