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Habit Forming

garrick-mykeys

“Look further down the road, you’ll have more time to prepare.” – my driver’s ed instructor

I floss my teeth every morning. For at least a decade, I didn’t. I had my excuses. None of them sound. Then, about 2 years ago, I had a bit of a tooth scare and committed to finding a floss that worked for me. One of my very first Seinfeld calendars was ‘I flossed today’. After about 12 weeks, it was part of my morning routine. Well, the shower-then-floss combo was my morning routine. Before this combo, each morning was a frazzled, half-asleep, reactive fire fight. This year I’ve been deliberately building atop this routine. My current Morning Routine includes 18 sequential tasks and lasts approximately 75 minutes. As I added items to the routine, my Seinfeld calendar shifted from ‘I flossed today’ to ‘I executed every item in the Morning Routine’. Along the way, mornings have became less stressful – even enjoyable.

I’ve found it takes me 26 continuous days to install a new daily habit. So, I revisit Morning Routine monthly re-ordering, adding, and removing items. The most recent addition has been ‘who am I grateful for?’, before that ‘weigh self’. These small things take seconds to complete especially within the larger sequence of getting up on the right side of the bed.

Morning Routine’s counterpart Evening Routine includes 12 things, and takes about 45 minutes to complete. More than once completing this routine has made the next day go more smoothly. If only for keeping me from making bad decisions when I should be sleeping.

These routines are one of the ways Future Garrick exerts influence over Current Garrick. As such, the only person disappointed when the activities aren’t completed is Future Garrick. He’s the one that ends up sleep-deprived and frustrated looking for lost car keys already late for a dentist appointment.

Future Garrick also wrote up Ideal Day to describe a what happens between Morning Routine and Evening Routine. This month, in response to a change in my class at the gym, I revisited my entire weekly schedule and discovered a couple of adjustments could increase the chances of me consistently realizing my Ideal Day by 28%. I made the adjustments.

From the frantic, reactive place I started, a morning routine of any kind was unimaginable. Now installed, it’s a surprising combination of malleable and resilient – especially when pointing toward a long term goal.

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Is This Helpful?

If you’ve received an email from me since 2008, you’ve likely seen those 3 words concluding my message.

I initially added them to my email as a soft way to confirm my message was, well, helpful. I envisioned them as a tiny step towards measuring the value of email in a new, qualitative, way. I didn’t envision how they’d change my writing.

With “Is this helpful?” as part of my default email signature, they are the first 3 words I see when I start a reply to you. Over the past 6 years these 3 words have challenged me to: re-read your original message, think through your question a little bit more, book the meeting on my calendar, double check my work, and be more constructive. They have continually challenged me to level up.

“Is this helpful?” is now a question I ask myself throughout the day. Not just in email, but in all my interactions with the world. It has become a touchstone for how I spend my time and where I direct my attention online and off.

“Is this helpful?” implies a goal and measurable forward progress towards achieving it. As a nemonic for larger goals these 3 words have a powerful ability to keep me from getting tangled up in The Daily Outrage. They also continually remind me that I don’t know everything – and measurable progress is the best way to uncover the unknown unknowns.

In short, these 3 words have become the qualitative value metric I originally envisioned.

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What My High School Art Teacher Taught Me About Business

garrick-eyes

Unlike every other class in high school, I remember art class being completely self-directed. Yes, in English I could choose which book I wrote a 3-page report on and in History I could choose whether or not I paid attention at all, but it was art where I felt I could wholly and completely pursue my interests. The medium, subject matter, and technique were all up to me. With one caveat – I had to write a proposal and Mrs. Topdahl needed to approve it.

The proposal had to include a brief description of the project, a timeline, and 3 goals and their corresponding measures of success. These were the metrics determining my grade. The goals were frequently things I continually struggled with: improved use of color, improved craftsmanship, more accurate depictions of human figures. As a teenager, I’m sure I wrote in some softballs from time to time. Mrs. Topdahl knew if I wasn’t challenging myself, reject the proposal, and send me back to re-write it. I remember spending entire class periods working on proposals. Once the proposal was approved, I’d get to work acquiring materials and scheduling milestones. We’d have check-ins throughout the defined timeline to discuss project status, which aspects of the project were working and which I needed help with. But mostly, from acquiring project materials through to final presentation, I’d work autonomously towards the defined goals.

While the proposals defined what a successful end state looked like, they never defined exactly how to arrive there. There was still plenty of room to explore the heart of the project and discover something both delightfully significant and significantly delightful. This is still art after all. Not every project was a resounding success. Some were complete messes.

Either way, by the next class period, I was drafting another proposal.

That was nearly a quarter century ago.

Before I drafted the proposal for a design internship.

Before I earned a BFA.

Before I went out on my own.

Before I read anything by Alan Weiss.

Looking back on the hundreds of professional projects I’ve worked on, the successful ones have 3 things in common:

  1. The client and I partnered in outlining the project’s goals, agreed on the proposal, then I worked autonomously.
  2. Determining how to achieve the goals was up to my experience and expertise – not included in the proposal.
  3. They had nothing to do with my use of color or depictions of the human figure.

Thanks to my high school art teacher, Mrs. Topdahl, for teaching 16-year old me how to be an independent professional.

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How I Learned to Get Up Before My Kids

Despite a bad habit of staying up until 2am most nights, I hadn’t used an alarm clock for at least 6 years. Likely a decade. When I was up that late actively working on a project (versus binge listening to music or watching Netflix), I’d joke my ‘second day’ was from 8pm – 2am. Yes, I’d be worthless until lunch, but at the time my clients were 2 timezones away. I continued to be a night owl when I became a father. Once the kids were asleep and the day was behind me, usually 10pm, I’d be inspired to start one project or another.

When my oldest was still a baby in the crib, sometime between 6:30 and 7am he would fill his diaper so loudly it’d wake his mother and me. I’d get up to change him. As he grew older, he’d just yell for me: “Papa, Papa, Papa, Papa, Papa, Papa…” until I picked him up. Once he could walk, he’d get himself out of bed, toddle down the hall into my bedroom, work his way to my side of the bed, shouting “Breafkast Time!” at my sleeping head. In case I didn’t immediately respond, his little sister was hanging in the shadows. Every morning. 7am.

I’ve always equated the sleep deprivation of having a newborn in the house like that of finals week in college. It’s intense but you know you’ll be able to sleep in a week. Or twelve. Sleep deprivation and older kids is different. You can’t cross off the days until they’ll sleep through the night. They are. You aren’t. There’s no relief in sight and it’s the worst version of you they see in the morning.

On one especially challenging morning I had an epiphany, “I’m a better dad when I’m up before the kids than if they wake me up.”

A deceptively simple goal.

To achieve this, my sleep deprived mind reasoned, I needed to get up 30 minutes earlier. To do that, I needed to sleep more deeply and more restfully. With a more restful sleep, I could wake up refreshed and ready to help the kids. I researched natural sleep aids and picked up a 3 month supply of melatonin. At about 11p each evening I’d take one tablet and about 30 minutes later I’d feel drowsy and head off to bed. Easy. This regimen worked great for a couple of months. I’d fall asleep when my head hit the pillow and wake up alert. As I reached the bottom of the pill bottle, I developed a tolerance. Ninety minutes after going to sleep, my eyes would shoot open and I’d be wide awake. Higher dosages just made it worse. Some nights, lying wide awake at the ceiling, I couldn’t remember if I had taken it at all.

In September 2011, I heard about the Zeo Sleep Coach from Jamie’s links blog. The Zeo is an alarm clock that monitors your sleep cycles and goes off at the most appropriate point ahead of your alarm. Along the way, it quantifies your night’s sleep in a single “ZQ” score.

You’ll need to wear the supplied headband for it to work. The instruction card in the box warns your spouse will mock the fact you need a headband to sleep.

As I accumulated more sleep data, I could easily hit a 76, 78, or 80 ZQ. The card says, this was slightly lower than others in my age group. Nothing else. No odd periods of wakefulness through the night, no irregular sleep cycles, nothing out of the ordinary. Just a slightly lower ZQ score and the expected mocking. I tried to game the ZQ score. On weekends I’d score the occasional 90. With a maximum of 10 points per hour it was tough to crack 100. But I did. Nine times. All time high of 117. Looking deeper into the data, I could see my sleep cycles were consistently 90 minutes long. Shifting my awake time 30 minutes earlier didn’t fall within that window. I reset Zeo’s alam clock accordingly. When it worked – it worked brilliantly. I’d get up with the alarm, start my day, and be dressed and fed before the kids demand I help them with the same.

The Zeo had a 2 significant downsides. The first – it considered your alarm time as the latest possible waking-point rather than the most appropriate waking-point in your sleep cycle. The second – and one I believe will be a significant controversy of the 21st Century – Zeo stored sleep data on an SD card encrypted. The recommended way of decrypting the data was to create an account at myzeo.com and upload the encrypted data file to their servers. Having my personal biological data captured and encrypted by a device in my household that only I was using with the default method for me to access that personal data was through a for-profit company’s servers – that’s completely unethical. Accessing my personal data on a device I purchased shouldn’t require a soldering iron. Especially when it’s a csv text file. Especially when the company in question quietly goes out of business and their domain reverts to a GoDaddy landing page.

Thankfully by this time, I had 18 months with the Zeo and had cracked the secret to getting a good night’s sleep. Once I accepted it and worked through a sleep debt, I could consistently wake up unaided before 6:30a.

Three years ago, if you would have told me this secret to getting a good night’s sleep without the aid of technology (electronic or pharmaceutical), I would have replied with a hearty scoff and a, “No, that can’t be it.”

It turns out the boost of inspiration I get every night at 10pm is my mind’s counterintuitive way of expressing drowsiness. Something like that boost of inspiration you might get as your mind wanders in the shower. Rather than simply take note of the inspiration, I’d immediately act on it. The blue light of the computer monitor would compounding my alertness. Before I knew it, it’d be 2am

Now, I don’t start anything new after 9:30 and aim for lights out by 10:30pm. This guarantees 5 90 minute sleep cycles before morning. The night owl in me still scoffs. I let him. The last score he got was a 58 (still displayed on the dust-collecting Zeo). He’ll never appreciate how enjoyable and productive mornings are.

Elsewhere:

Those hours before sunrise became a kind of sacred space to me, and I’ve used them over the years to do whatever work has been most important in my life. – Steve Leveen

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Beer Flights for Your Holidays

Lately I’ve preferred drinking small 4oz pours of 3-5 different beers rather than a larger pour of a single beer. Being able to compare and contrast multiple beers makes it easier to suss out the distinctive character of each individual beer. I’ve also found when I drink less when I drink mindfully.

The big box stores have released their holiday hours, Amazon is counting down to Black Friday, Vita.mn has released their Minnesota six-pack, and I’m studying up for a BJCP tasting exam. Roll that all together and I’ve had holiday beer flights on the brain. Each of the 6 flights below is designed for diversity and distinctiveness. I trust it will introduce you and yours to something new and interesting (and maybe even look at something familiar in a new way). All the beers were purchased in either MN or WI, though some are easier to find than others.

History Flight

Four pale, crisp, refreshing beers highlighting a brewing technique or ingredient that was once far more popular than it is today. Compare and contrast the tartness from the yeast, spicy from the hops & herbs, and the diversity in carbonation levels.

Beer (Origin) BeerAdvocate Score
Antwerpse Brouw Seef (Belgium) 81
Olvalde Rise of the Burghers and the Fall of the Feudal Lords (MN) NA
Schell Star of the North (MN) 95
Orval (Belgium) 94

Hop Flight

The full spectrum of hop forward American pale ales. Notice the differences in malt sweetness and how the hop bitterness and citrusy hop aroma keeps ahead of it.

Beer (Origin) BeerAdvocate Score
Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye (CA) 95
Ballast Point Big Eye (CA) 91
Indeed Day Tripper (MN) 90
21st Amendment Bitter American (CA) 87

Dark Flight

In these four big, dark beers look for roasted coffee, dark chocolate, prunes, and assertive alcohol presence. Compare the differences in smoke and roasted grains. Discuss with your companions whether or not you enjoy the 2 with peated malt (I do).

Beer (Origin) BeerAdvocate Score
Samuel Adams Wee Heavy (MA) 83
Boulevard Dark Truth (MO) 89
Fulton Worthy Adversary (MN) 93
Brouwerij De Molen Hemel & Aarde (Belgium) 89

Farmhouse Flight

From traditional to clearly American, these 4 beers interpret a rustic, complex, and refreshingly dry style. Compare and contrast the hop aromas and spicy yeast characters. Look for the ‘wild’ yeast character common in this style.

Beer (Origin) BeerAdvocate Score
Brooklyn Sorachi Ace (NY) 92
Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale (MO) 93
Hopothesis Drafty Window (IL) NA
Brasserie Dupont Saison Dupont (Belgium) 93

Sour Flight

These four beers will stand up against any red wine at your holiday table. Like wine, they’re complex in aroma and flavor. Compare and contrast the levels of carbonation and prominence of dark fruit. Look for oak, tobacco, vanilla, and red-wine-esque tannins.

Beer (Origin) BeerAdvocate Score
Bockor Cuvee Des Jacobin Rouge (Belgium) 96
Verhaeghe Duchesse De Bourgogne (Belgium) 92
Rodenbach Grand Cru (Belgium) 95
Odell The Meddler (CO) 89

Cellar Flight

These are big beers, happily set down in a cool, dark, cellar and brought out for a celebration. Compare and contrast prominence of alcohol warmth and hop aroma. Discuss which beer is most reminds you of fruitcake. Look for caramel, oak, and comfortable place to sit down.

Beer (Origin) BeerAdvocate Score
North Coast Old Stock Ale (CA) 92
Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine (CA) 93
Avery Samael’s Ale (CO) 87
Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus Classic (Austria) 89