You Can’t Trust the Media

One thing that has become obvious to me over the years is that you can’t trust the media. That is because the media receives it’s income through advertising. As many people have said over the years:

“If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer, you’re the product.”

While that thought has always made me distrust the media to some degree, I assumed that they were really only swayed by their advertisers’ agendas. Well, according to Ryan Holiday (media manipulator) in a video interview with Epipheo.TV, it’s worse than that. The media doesn’t even really care too much about getting things right. They just care about driving as many page views as possible. That’s what drives their advertising profits after all. So, fact checking isn’t necessarily important to them.

This is important if you are an entrepreneur and are making decisions for your business based on what you read in the news. It means that you have to really think about any news that informs your decisions. You need to fact check them yourself if the information is crucial to an important decision because you can’t trust that the reporter fact checked it before they ran the story. The story or the data could be completely false. So, if you need reliable information you either need to build your own news team to vet everything before you make a decision or you need to find a reliable source that accepts no advertising.

Personally, I just fact check as much of what I read as possible (when it’s important). The options I listed above are both expensive for a bootstrapped startup. Just knowing that any piece of infrormation you consume from the media might be erroneous and that you need to check it first, can go a long way towards making better business decisions.

Week 1 Review

calendarNow that Week 1 of Q1  of my life pivot is complete, I am keeping myself honest by checking in here. As expected in week one of anything, I’m not exactly where I want to be yet. I did accomplish more than I have been accomplishing on a weekly basis, which is good, but not sufficient.

The true bright spot is that this past week I started setting the stage for the rest of the quarter. I set the tone by putting some processes in place to facilitate success, eliminating some time wasters and building a little momentum with all my tasks. Plus, last week I enrolled my kids in two additional days of preschool, which they will be starting tomorrow. So, that means that they’re going from 3 days of preschool a week to 5. For them, that means more fun. What does that mean for me? Seven more hours of quiet work time from my home office. That’s what that means!

Now this week, the goal is to really ratchet up my productivity. With some time wasters out of the way, a set schedule and a few more quiet hours to work, this should be a great time to build momentum. Since I’m going to be working on procrastination this week, that should help to keep that issue from claiming the time I have cleared for myself and really help me to make some large strides. Well, enough procrastinating! Time for me to get back to some Ruby on Rails training!

Procrastination

woman workingSince it’s late on Saturday and I’m still trying to figure out what area I need to work on in my life for next week, my decision was made automatically. Next week’s area of focus is: procrastination! So, I’ll spend this week ruthlessly fighting my tendency to procrastinate on certain tasks. Hopefully, making this my area of focus will mean that next week will be a week of prompt action and an utter lack of time wasting procrastination.

Do I think that likely? No, but I do hope to make some real progress in an area that is a problem for me and a lot of other people. Think about how much work you have to do. Now think about how much time you have spent procrastinating. If you’re honest with yourself, you would probably realize that you might have a much smaller amount of surplus work if you applied most of the time you spent procrastinating to that work. Whatever, you say? Everybody procrastinates?

I can tell you that not everyone procrastinates. My wife is the antiprocrastinator. I can’t tell you the last time I saw her waste a single minute. You know what that translates into? An amazing level of accomplishment and a pile of completed tasks behind her that are way larger than the tasks waiting ahead of her. I am constantly amazed at her ability to chew through work. Does it tire her out? Yes. Then she consciously takes a break before moving on to the next thing. That is one of the many areas where she is inspirational to me. I won’t go into any of the other areas here. I’m going to think about her every time I’m tempted to procrastinate (as if I don’t already) and I’ll use that in my self improvement quest this week,

Shrinking the Firehose

Fire HoseAs part of my attempt to focus my effort on the more important tasks I have on my todo list, I’ve decided to start carving away at some tasks that eat away at either my time or my attention. The largest two areas that I found I could chip away at without sacrificing time on work or my family were the podcasts I listen to and the RSS feeds that I read. So, I took an initial pass through both and ended up with the following:

  • I eliminated 7 of the 21 podcasts I listen to/watch. (33.3% reduction)
  • I eliminated 6 of the 24 RSS feeds that I scour each day. (25% reduction)

I use the podcasts and RSS feeds to which I subscribe to gather information and stay of top of technology, business and local news. What I found as I was going through my various feeds is that I had a few sites and podcasts that presented me with more or less the same news. So, in the spirit of the 80/20 rule that I talked about a few days back, I started eliminating some of the less productive 80%.  That would allow me to focus more on the 20% of the news sources I use that present me with 80% of the useful information I see every day. Plus, it should release some valuable time for more important tasks.

Obviously, I wasn’t as brutal as to cut out 80% of the news and try to end up with only 20% of it left. But I did cut more than 25% of my total news from the less productive sources I aggregated while only losing maybe 1-2% of the useful information. So, in other words, a pretty efficient culling of news sources and one I’ll continue to tweak over time.

As a further part of my effort to trim less useful information, I unsubscribed from many email lists as their emails appeared in my mailbox. I forgot to keep track of exactly how many I unsubscribed from, but it was well over a dozen. As I receive more emails, I’ll keep trimming more out. I also turned off notifications for at least a couple dozen apps on my iPhone and iPad. I usually deny those when they ask to be turned on, but apparently a few snuck through.

While I don’t feel like I’ve eliminated distractions, I’ve definitely taken a bite out of it. I’m almost ready to turn to next week’s area of focus, which I’ll select tomorrow to start working on Sunday.

High Efficiency Exercise

Runner StretchingAs part of my new regimen, I’ve built in daily exercise. This is extra exercise on top of whatever walking I already do. Some people count walking as exercise, but for me it’s just my normal mode of transportation. My goal in my life pivot is to improve myself in the most efficient way possible. Since I already walk, I can’t count it.

Heading to the gym for an hour or two is not a good option right now, so I’ve been looking for an efficient way to fit in some extra exercise. Luckily, Lifehacker threw me this great new 7 minute exercise routine that I’m going to try out for awhile. It’s basically a 12 exercise interval routine and only requires my bodyweight and a chair. Since I have both of those handy, I have no excuses!

If anyone is interested in the study that spawned the routine, here’s the original study from ACSM’s  Health & Fitness Journal. It recommends doing the full circuit 2-3 times, so the full time would be about 14-21 minutes, but that’s still not bad. Plus, if you don’t have the time, I’m sure you could just do those circuits throughout the day when the time presents itself. Maybe once in the morning, once at lunch and once after work? Anyway you slice it, if you have trouble fitting exercise into your day, this might be the way to do it.

80/20 Rule

Killing Time on ClockI think almost everyone has heard of the 80/20 rule, also called the Pareto Principle. At it’s simplest form, it says that 80% of effects come from 20% of the causes. For example, in business, 80% of your profits come from 20% of your work. That means that the other 80% of the time that you are working, only contributes 20% of your profit.

That allows for an amazing amount of efficiency savings if you can figure out which areas you can carve out of your workload.  If you could just carve out half of the less productive 80% of your work without carving out any of your key 20%, you could either spend more time on your productive part or reclaim a little downtime to recharge.

As part of my self improvement area for this week (focus), I’m trying to carve away a bit of my less efficient 80%. To be honest, I think that number is valid and I’m carving into it. I can already see some extra time opening up.

The Internet Is Eroding Our Focus

We need to think better, not more or faster. This is very well covered in this video from Epipheo.tv that talks with Nicholas Carr, the author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. He talks about how the internet is short circuiting the ability of our brains to consolidate the memories in our short term working memory and transfer them to our long term memory. That transfer is what prepares that new information, so that we can connect it with all the information we already know and allow us to make logical connections. If memory consolidation is disrupted, it reduces our ability to think creatively and conceptually.

The advice in the video is that we need to better focus our attention for at least a portion of our day for memory consolidation to have a better opportunity to function. My takeaway is that on top of that, we need to reduce the distractions that constantly interrupt our thoughts in the form of texts, application notifications on our computers and phones and constantly open social networks. We need to use the conveniences of the internet on our terms at predetermined times rather than whenever they choose to interrupt us.  That way, those conveniences can help us acquire knowledge instead of keeping us from doing so in a meaningful way. Definitely check out the video below. It’s interesting and definitely fits into my self improvement are of the week, which is “focus”.

My First Ten Week Course

studentIn my quest to pivot my professional life, I decided that I need to go back to school. Sort of. I don’t believe that going to a physical school will actually give me the skills or experience I want. The only thing that I think that experience would give me would be a lot of time away from my family, due to the distance from any school of note. Oh and I’d gain one other thing, a lot of extra expenses. Those are two things I don’t need.

What I do need are some updated skills in at least one and maybe more programming languages and some experience developing mobile apps. My past work experience was in configuring enterprise apps and some programming in Visual Basic, JavaScript and a little C. Even that experience was from a few years ago. My recent coding experience from online classes is in Python. I’d like to build on my Python knowledge a bit and I’d also like to get into some Objective C for iOS development.

I’m not crazy enough to think that I’ll get from where I am to where I want to be in a few weeks. My plan is to complete three 10 week quarters of study. Those quarters will be composed of at least one class, some readings that I have selected, some mental and physical exercises and an area of self improvement. Those three quarters will also culminate in the completion of a project, which will be due before the end of the year.

To keep myself on track, I’m sharing what I’m doing with some people I know that I will be accountable to. I’ll check in with them weekly and if I’m behind, they’ll give me a little bit of a kick to get myself back on track. With a program like this with no grades, some method of accountability is key. As a part of that, I’ll post what I’m working on here at least at the end of each 10 week course and possibly more frequently.

My first self directed ten week course is going to be composed of the following at least 5 days a week:

  1. daily exercise
  2. 5-10 min daily meditation
  3. 1-2 hr taking an online course
  4. 2-4 hr building a mobile app
  5. 1 hr blogging
  6. up to 1 hr for an unrelated project
  7. 30 min working on my self improvement area of the week (This week: Focus)

Well, that’s the plan. I’ve already completed 1,2,5,6 & 7 for today. That’s a good start. Now I better focus and try to keep on track. It wouldn’t do to fall behind on Day 1, would it?

Focus

Focus Road SignAs the flip side to my introspection yesterday on distraction, today I’m looking at focus. It’s appropriate because I’m starting Week 1 of my life pivot on Monday and one of my assignments for this week is working on my focus. How better to start the week than with focus? I can’t think of anything that would be more helpful in accomplishing my goals for the week in the ten week course of instruction/work that I’ve set up.

I am taking the approach that my main problem with focus is that my days have been lacking structure because the events/issues in my life have been hyper fluid. Things are finally settling down enough that structuring my day is feasible. So, I am going to establish more structure to my days to enable me to focus better.

The first part of the structure that I am creating is my Ten Week Course. I’ll talk a little about that tomorrow, which will be the first official day of that course. I’ll also talk a little about how that course is going to fit into the larger “life pivot” that I’ve been mentioning.

The second part of the structure will be to build breaks into my day. If I don’t have a built in break mechanism, there are two fundamental problems I run into. The first is that I take random breaks as my mind drifts into other areas. I don’t waste a lot of time by taking too many breaks, but taking breaks randomly throughout the day is a problem from a distraction standpoint. Since I’m working on reducing distractions this week and increasing focus, that needs to be fixed. The second problem is that sometimes I get a little too tied into what I’m doing. I’m hoping that structuring in some breaks will allow me to turbocharge my work while I’m doing it and quickly eliminate some items that are niggling at the edges of my consciousness at predetermined break times. That way things like email or twitter won’t eat away at my focus while I am supposed to be working on something else.

I’ve decided to give the Pomodoro Technique a try because it seems like the best match for the way that I work. The gist of this technique is that you work for 25 minutes and then take a 3-5 minute break. Each of these cycles is called a “pomodori.” Every fourth pomodori, you take a 15-30 minute break. If you’re interested in learning more about it, you can download “The Pomodoro Technique” by Francesco Cirillo for free under a Creative Commons license. I’m going to read the book during my breaks to try to get a little more insight into it as well.

For the first week, I’m not sure how my breaks are going to go or how well the technique will even work, but that’s part of the learning process. At the end of the week, I will at least understand what is affecting my ability to focus and start to work on tweaking my systems and my thought processes to enhance it in the following weeks.

Distraction

choicesThis is a personal post involving some introspection on my part, so it may not be of use to everyone. If not, I apologize, but I’m going to be a bit self indulgent in this post.

I am currently attempting what amounts to a “pivot” for my life in general. I have spent the past few years blogging or podcasting and doing some occasional freelance computer work. During that time I was also doing major renovations (still ongoing) to our 125 year old Victorian house and caring for my two sons, one of which had a speech delay that required a bit of attention for awhile. (He’s doing much better now, if you’re wondering.) Needless to say, I’ve been very busy and at the same time had my focus split many different ways.

The extreme multitasking that I’ve been semi-forced into has opened my life up to a level of distraction that is unlike anything that I have ever experienced before. While I have gotten a tremendous amount done (with the assistance of my beautiful wife), a good amount of productive time was wasted in transitions. I’m not saying that I should have gotten more done during those transition times, but if I had been a little more focused I could have had more quality breaks where I could have rested or maybe slept more. That would have made me more focused and productive when I was working and would have left me feeling more fulfilled.

Instead of getting those quality breaks that I needed to be more rested, I felt like I was wasting time during those transitions. That resulted in periods when I got very little done, felt guilty for that and received no benefit from the time whatsoever. So, what I’m saying is that the time was completely wasted. If I had taken one of those wasted hours, sat with my wife, had a glass of Porto and talked about a non work related topic without any thought for what I could be accomplishing, that would have been time well spent. The time spent trying to get work done while kids run in and constantly ask for things or trying to do emails while I should be talking to my wife were a waste. I intend to reduce that type of wasted time going forward.

My goal in Week 1 of my self directed schooling/startup is going to have reducing distractions as one of it’s focuses. So, I’ll be working on that and writing about it and my self directed schooling over the next few days.