2019: Habits That Stuck

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2019-habits

It’s hard to believe that our son Grant’s first birthday is right around the corner. I didn’t know how parenting would impact my habits in 2019, but I’m happy to report that many of the habits I valued didn’t go away.

There were a number of adjustments I had to make along the way, but overall, I’m incredibly grateful for how smoothly things have gone. I’ve adopted (and adapted) a number of different routines for different parts of my day and week but rather than go into those details, I’ve pulled out the specific habits that have helped me live differently this year.

2019 New Habits

Whoop Daily Strain, Recovery, and Sleep Tracking

I started wearing the Whoop tracking band in April and it’s been a game-changer. Whoop takes a holistic view of fitness and puts as much emphasis on sleep and recovery as it does the heart rate changes during exercise (the strain). Their app quickly got me hooked on trying to achieve higher strain, recovery, and sleep stats, which meant being more conscious of my daily decisions like exercising and bedtime.

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The Strain view on Whoop where it shows my various activities and how intense they were from a heart rate perspective.

Whoop has a brief survey every morning to track your behavior, asking if you consumed caffeine close to bedtime, drank alcohol close to bed time, read a book, slept with someone else in your bed, etc. These daily ticks add up over time and help establish trends. For example, Whoop recently told me that I get 14% less REM sleep when I consume alcohol too close to bedtime.

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Whoop’s Sleep view shows the quality of the sleep. I typically check on the amount of REM and SWS Deep sleep I had each night.

My use of Whoop came at an opportune time. With the baby, my wake-up time has been, without fail, 6:30AM or earlier, and so getting 6+ hours of quality sleep means an earlier bedtime. With Whoop, I monitor my sleep quality daily in order to see how much REM and deep sleep I got, which in turn seems to help me feel more or less rested, depending on the stats. I’ve found myself minimizing certain behaviors (e.g. staying out late, eating/drinking too late, being on the phone in bed, etc.) to ensure that I have a better chance at higher quality sleep.

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One of Whoop’s biggest selling points is that it helps you track your recovery and gives you a metric to show how ready you are to take on strain the next day.

At $30/month, Whoop isn’t a cheap service or a one-time purchase of a fitness band, but the monthly subscription helps keeps you accountable in terms of regularly using the app. And when you pull back and think about it, investing $360/year to get better sleep, more exercise, and greater daily recovery seems totally worth it. Here’s a referral link if you want to give Whoop a try (you get the band for free plus a free month and I get a free month).

Update: On the last day of the year, I got my 2019 Performance Assessment report from Whoop, which was pretty cool. It breaks down all my stats from the entire year. Since I started in April, I have gaps for the first few months, but you can see that it’s still a pretty rich data set. The big takeaway for me is that I don’t get enough sleep for the amount of strain I take on / recovery I require. Time to push bedtime up a bit.

A page from my 2019 Performance Assessment report that was sent on the last day of the year.

A page from my 2019 Performance Assessment report that was sent on the last day of the year.

Daily Mobility Exercises for Dad Back

Being a dad means a lot of bending over. Bending over to pick up the baby. Bending over to pick up toys. Bending over to pick up food off the ground. Bending over to lay baby down into crib or bathtub.

Most dads I’ve talked to have some sort of lower back pain. My guess is that most dads have tight hamstrings and hip flexors from sitting at work all day long and not doing enough to increase mobility in those areas. I’m guilty of this as well, especially as I spend the greater part of my hours at work slouched at my desk.

A couple of years ago, I got into daily mobility exercises to help prevent injury while training for the marathon. Last year, I stuck less and less to the habit as my workouts evolved into more lifting exercises. This year, to help combat the back soreness that began flaring up from baby-related movements, I began incorporating mobility exercises into my daily routine, focused mostly on my back.

While Grant plays with his toys in the morning, I’ll use a lacrosse ball to activate my trigger points on my upper back, relieving tension near my traps and shoulders. I then use a MobilityWod Gemini to roll out my lower back. This feels so damn good every morning and warms me up. These exercises take about 10 minutes to do, just in time for me to change Grant and take him and our dog Sidney out for our morning walk.

These exercises have allowed me to remain mostly pain-free. I also supplement these with couch stretches and hamstring stretches whenever I work out at the gym. I’ve kept a tracker on a spreadsheet to mark off every day I do this and it’s by far the most consistent habit I have going.

Leaving Work at 6PM for Bath Time

Before Grant, I used to linger at work until 6:30/7PM on most days. There was no rush to get home unless I had plans with Melanie. Otherwise, I’d use the time after work hours to catch up on a few things. This year, that all changed and I’ve committed to leaving at 6PM on the dot every day.

My goal during the work week is to get home by 6:40PM so I can hang out with Grant for a few minutes and then give him his bath. It’s one of my favorite times of the day and even if I’m tired from work, I always find it energizing to watch him splash around and play with his toys in the bathtub.

Leaving work at 6PM has meant being more deliberate and smarter about the time I spend at work. After taking four weeks off for parental leave in January, I came back with a greater focus that I’ve ever had in all the years of work at Barrel. I wanted to do good work but also not waste time. I found myself guarding my calendar with ferocity and giving myself the time and space to do the hard, important stuff during work hours.

I can confidently say that I’ve contributed and accomplished more this year for the business than any of my previous years all while spending much less time at work, and this is a trend I intend to continue.

Writing for at Least 15 Minutes

My publishing output was down this year, but I actually spent more time writing this year than in previous years. I tracked the days when I spent at least 15 focused minutes engaged in the act of writing. This meant sitting at table with my laptop actually writing something. I didn’t count any sort of writing on my phone while commuting or any work-related writing. As of today, I’ve logged 169 instances, which works out to 3.25 times a week over the course of the year.

While there were days when I would struggle to hit the minimum, there were also days when I would lose track of time and end up writing for more than an hour. I set the bar intentionally low at 15 minutes so it would feel like an easier target to hit as much as possible.

A big reason I didn’t publish as many blog posts this year is because I spent a big chunk of time working on a book idea that I ended up abandoning for now. It’s a fictional story with personal finance lessons geared towards creatives who, from my experience working with them, are often disdainful or ignorant about money-related topics. I developed numerous characters and scenarios and wrote a half dozen first chapters before realizing I didn’t want to go through with it, at least not now.

One of the best things that happened for me in terms of writing was taking the Write of Passage course towards the end of this year. Run by a young guy named David Perell, this online course was totally worth the $1,000+ investment. Over the course of 6 or so weeks, I participated in the twice-a-week video conference sessions where we learned various frameworks to help develop take notes, develop ideas, and publish interesting pieces. I also got to meet a lot of really cool people.

It was around the time I enrolled this course that I rebooted my neglected weekly newsletter. I’ve been able to send my newsletter for 8 straight weeks now after a long hiatus. I make sure to get into newsletter mode the moment Grant goes down for his morning nap on weekends, so it’s worked out nicely.

Inbox Zero with Superhuman

I started using Superhuman as my work email client in October and it’s been a helpful change. With Gmail, I would generally read all of my emails but never archive any, using stars to help me track which ones to revisit later but still being confronted with all the messages on-screen whether I read them or not.

With Superhuman, I’ve come to love the feeling of hitting inbox zero and quickly acting on each piece of email rather than revisiting them over and over again. In many ways, it mirrors the Getting Things Done approach to task management which I’ve come to embrace as well (more on this later for 2020 habit goals).

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The inbox zero view Superhuman is always a welcome sight and one that I get to at least a few times a day.

I’ve touted Superhuman to friends and people at work and hardly anyone has made the switch. Most people, predictably, are resistant to change and are inclined to believe that what they already have works just fine. The few who’ve taken the leap swear by it like I do. If you’re the experimental type who likes trying out new tools, I’d recommend giving Superhuman a go if you haven’t already. Their one-on-one video conference onboarding is quite something.

Sparkling Water

I wrote about this extensively on my other blog Customer Journeyman, so I won’t write much here except to say that drinking sparkling water with real fruit juice has become a daily habit. Spindrift is my go-to brand for now, and I consume at least 2 cans per day and more on weekends.

Speaking of beverages, I also began drinking coffee again and quite a bit at that. Waking up regularly between 5:30AM and 6:30AM every morning took getting used to, and I felt myself craving something more potent than tea. I rediscovered my passion for good coffee, enjoying cold brew during the summer and subscribing to Trade Coffee for fresh bean delivery (disclosure: referral link).

What Happened to Habits I Picked Up in 2018?

You can read my 2018 habits report here.

Working Out 3+ Times a Week

As of today, I’ve worked out 180 times or nearly 3.5 times a week. I was much more consistent the first half of the year when we lived directly across from the Crunch gym. After moving this summer, the frequency has gone down a bit as it takes me longer to get to Crunch.

However, we do have a small gym in the basement of our new apartment building. It doesn’t have much but I’ve been secretly adding some equipment, ordering a few kettlebells and resistance bands from Amazon. I also love the rowing machine we have down there and put rowing into my weekly rotation of workouts.

I’m hoping to keep the 3.5 average going. It’s so important to work up a sweat and move the body. In an ideal world, the number would be closer to 6 times per week, and I’ll continue to experiment to see how I can get there.

Intermittent Fasting

I started off with a strict 7-day intermittent fasting schedule, not eating from 10PM to 3PM (17 hours off, 7 hours on). Earlier this year, I switched to fasting only during the workweek, which meant I could enjoy brunch with my family on weekends. The workweek fasting, I feel, is still very effective and helps me recover quickly from any decadent dinners. I usually break my fast at 3PM with the exact same lunch snack: blueberries, pecans, walnuts, dried cranberries, and dates. This is my anti-oxidant bomb that I look forward to and never tire of.

In many ways, intermittent fasting is my primary weapon for keeping the pounds off and detoxing from whatever I might’ve had over the weekend or the previous evening.

Monthly Dinner with My Parents

We’ve been less deliberate with planning dinners with my parents now that my Mom comes over every weekday to take care of Grant, but we’ve generally had at least one get-together each month this year including a weeklong trip to Italy. They adore their grandson and it’s great that they’re just a 10-minute drive away.

Black & White iPhone Screen

I’ve kept my iPhone on black & white for more than a year and I don’t think I’ll switch back. Whenever I do switch because I need to see color on a diagram or chart, I find the screen too bright and loud. I’ve gotten so used to the muted feel of black & white that it’s now an aesthetic preference.

I recently upgraded to an iPhone 11 Pro Max and even with its deluxe camera features, I’m still not inclined to change the color settings. I take a bunch of photos and videos every day (most of Grant) that I then share with Melanie to look at in color on her phone. Sounds dumb, but I’d like to think the black & white has made a difference in how I feel every day–more calm and less stimulated.

Habits for 2020

I don’t have a big list of new habits for the new year. However, I do have some goals that will build on top of my existing habits which I’ll share in the next section. For 2020, I do have a couple things I’d like to focus on and turn into sticky habits.

Recurring Date Nights

Back in 2016, Melanie and I instituted weekly date nights that we kept consistent for 2+ years. Once Grant came, we agreed to put date night on pause. In 2020, we’d like to establish something regular again. It won’t be weekly, but we’ve been thinking of something maybe once every three weeks where we can get a babysitter in on a Saturday night after we put Grant to bed, giving us time to go grab dinner somewhere. It’ll take some planning, but I think it will be worth the effort. I would consider this a successful habit if we can log at least 14 dates in 2020.

Getting Things Done

I’ve been a huge convert of David Allen’s Getting Things Done, a book and framework for organizing tasks and projects. It’s changed the way I organize my To Do’s and catalog anything weighing on my mind so that I could get them out of my head and address them in a systematic manner. Some of the lessons I’ve learned in here may sound like common sense, but putting many of the tactics into practice has made me realize that there were some weak links in my personal task management system that created stress and anxiety that could easily be avoided by tightening up my approach.

In 2020, I intend to further my implementation of GTD and continue to refine my system. The goal is to get in a groove where I can continually take on new projects, generation next actions, and steadily work through tasks in a thoughtful and deliberate manner.

Goals for 2020

I’ve been wary of goals in the past because I didn’t have a great accountability framework and felt that throwing out a number didn’t mean much. However, after a year of tracking various personal metrics, I’m more confident about setting and hitting my goals.

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I kept a daily tracker to measure my progress in 2019. I fell short of most goals, so I’ll be setting more realistic (although still ambitious) ones for 2020.

Goal 1: Exercise 200 Times

I’ll need to work out a little over 10% more, or 20 more days than in 2019, in 2020 to hit this goal. The way I look at it, it’s basically finding 17 times to work out throughout the course of each month, which is totally doable.

Goal 2: Run a 20-minute 5k

Tied to Goal 1, I’m really interested to see if I can get in shape enough to pump out a 20-minute 5k. Right now, I can probably muster at best somewhere in the 23-24 minute range. If I can shave 60-90 seconds off my mile average, I can get there. I’ve already signed up for a race in April, so I hope to make some progress early in the year.

A side note: after having trained for a marathon (and half-marathons), I’m looking forward to a shorter and faster race that still gives me the benefit of running. I’d like to keep my workouts to under an hour (or even under half hour in some cases), so the 5k presents a great opportunity.

Goal 3: Publish 24 Blog Posts

This year, I published 14 blog posts total, a big dip from the past 2 years when I published 20+ posts. I think quantity is just as important as quality when it comes to writing, and being able to publish and share my work will only make me better over time, allowing me to get feedback and gauge what topics gain traction with readers. Also, publishing something requires more rigor and forces me to edit my writing, which, while sometimes tiresome, is never a bad use of time.

Goal 4: Send 50 Newsletters

This is a tall order but something I’m eager to fulfill. By the end of this year, I’ll have sent 69 total newsletters since starting in May 2017. By the end of 2020, I’d love to be at 119 total newsletters.

I’m tempted to layer on more goals, but I know these four above will be a handful. All of these goals will require a degree of daily discipline to accomplish and it’ll force me to make smarter decisions on things like alcohol consumption, bedtimes, and mindless entertainment. Ultimately, if I can hit these goals, I know I’ll have had a healthy and productive year.

A Happy New Year

The overarching reason for all these habits and goals are to live a happy and meaningful life. For me, that means: 1) spending ample amounts of time with family & friends while being fully present and engaged and 2) being able to set and accomplish challenging initiatives at work while working collaboratively with people I respect and care about. By being my healthiest, most focused, and energetic self, I’ll put myself in prime position to have a good year. Of course, life is unpredictable and full of surprises, both good and bad, so I’ll also continue to count my blessings and understand that there will be tough and stressful moments that I’ll need to weather.

This is my fifth year of writing a post about habits, and I’m really glad I’ve kept at it. Happy new year, and hope you have a wonderful 2020.

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