INTERNAL SCORECARD #18: Habit Disruption Due to Travel
I write up these "Internal Scorecards" to look at production, productivity, habits. This particular edition will cover a broad mix of topics, from 6 October to 23 October.
We're traveling in this edition, so you can see how habits hold up when on the road.
I flew to Bangkok via Singapore on October 14th for the DCBKK conference on October 18th. I stayed in Singapore one day en route, and will leave Bangkok on October 24th.
I was a little worried about attending the conference, because I was playing at an extremely high level and extremely consistently in Taipei. I knew there was a real chance of disruption of my routines, and I didn't want to face it.
Yet, inevitably that disruption will occur, and I figured (1) the conference would be a great venue to attend, and (2) good to come proactively and in good mental ability knowing that routines might get disrupted, and then need rebuilding.
SLEEP DISCIPLINE AS A MISSING COMPONENT
As described in the last Scorecard, "Organization and Operations," things were going very well. There were almost no hang-ups in my life -- just about everything was on track and at a high level.
At the same time, there's always little adjustments and recalibrations necessary to stay sane and healthy.
A big part of why I was thriving on every level was due to simply refusing to give up or give in. Every day, I would do my commitments for that day. Without fail.
The nastiest consequence of that was a screwy sleep schedule. Here's my sleep logs from October 6th to October 12th --
Time awake/total sleep: 3:20PM / 10 hours
Time awake/total sleep: 2:20AM / 0 hours (couldn't sleep)
Time awake/total sleep: 3:30AM / 10 hours + .5 hours + 1 hour
Time awake/total sleep: 4:50AM / 4.5 hours + .5 hours + 4 hours
Time awake/total sleep: 3:55AM / 2 hours
Time awake/total sleep: 4:55AM / 6.5 + 3
Time awake/total sleep: 1:10PM / 7.5 hours + 1 hour
If you see a "+" sign, that means a nap. So "Time awake/total sleep: 4:50AM / 4.5 hours + .5 hours + 4 hours" would mean waking up at 4:50AM after going to bed around midnight, grabbing a half an hour nap (probably early in the day between calls), and then grabbing a four hour nap later in the day.
This isn't really a healthy or smart way to operate. It was the largest flaw in my general way of operating. I didn't really address it at this point, though. More on that in a moment.
HIGH VIGILANCE WITH TRAVEL INCOMING
Overall, that week of the 6th to 12th was just marvelously effective. Knowing I was leaving for Singapore, I cleaned and packed up on the 13th (also a good day), and got on a plane.
I was ready for the disruption to routines, so I was extra-carefully vigilant. I prioritized finding a gym and working out as one of the first things to do each day, meaning I paid $10 to work out for 20 minutes in Singapore's Changi Airport before heading into the city.
That feels a little silly, and it wasn't even a very good gym. But habits are typically disrupted by taking them slightly for granted for a number of days in a row. I figured there would be a chance they'd get forcibly broken (not if I could help it, but possibly) due to some crazy circumstance or miscalculation on my part. But while it was still firmly under my power, I'd look to not miss a workout on a transit day.
I likewise kept up with Systematizing, kept at Inbox Zero, kept writing, kept processing, etc. (All my processes/rules for these were in the last Internal Scorecard).
With this level of vigilance, fall-off becomes much harder. So far, so good.
CONFERENCE VIGILANCE, TOO
The conference was wonderful. Some old friends, some new friends, and some great ideas and actionable points. I won't walk through the conference itself -- there's plenty of recaps around -- except to say it was excellent. The focus here is on analyzing performance.
I was wary of letting my routines go, so I woke far earlier than the conference, and got fitness, writing, etc done. I answered email on the train and figured it was okay if my email got behind a few days (it did, but got re-emptied a few days later). I loosened up on my Systematizing requirement, and instead looked for guidance of new systems to put in place during the conference and counted that.
So far, so good.
GETTING BITTEN FROM UPSIDE AND OPPORTUNITIES
It's interesting -- we tend to assume that habits get broken due to bad events. But we often ignore when habits get broken due to good events and opportunities.
I think that's because we tend to see when bad events strike and take us off our patterns. Going to the gym religiously, get the flu, stop going… a few months later, in analyzing why, "Ah, I stopped going because I was sick."
It's easier to forget when we stop going to the gym because of a promotion at work, an awesome new social circle, or something otherwise cool and fun. You think back and it's just a blur. "I was going to the gym, but umm, I just stopped going at some point."
Yet, in my experience, it's very often the high upside and excellent times that take us off our game.
So it was with me -- I was braced and ready for all sorts of the nastiness and dangers and pitfalls of traveling to throw me off my routines. It was, instead, the high upside and great times.
I had blocked out time during the conference to go off and do my thing, but I kept running into some old friends and having great times. It's interesting, because individually each of these was a big win of a decision, but collectively my set of habits and routines that build my life started getting shaky and off track.
Another noteworthy one -- there was an exceptionally good buffet at the Pullman G hotel. I've been running a 500-1000 calorie deficit basically every single day, almost without fail, for months now as I march towards single-digit bodyfat. The awesome buffet did me in on that, and I had a couple days of quite high calories. (One at 4000 calories, one at 8000+)
COMBINATION OF LOTS OF OPPORTUNITY, OVERSCHEDULING, AND BAD SLEEP DISCIPLINE
Another snakebitten moment was in overestimating my ability to manage everything. I considered intentionally taking off a few days around the conference from my routines just to enjoy it, but I decided against it.
I wanted to see what happened if I was over-bandwidth and my systems were taxed a lot. I knew they would be. I'd be curious where they would break and what that would reveal.
The dumbest thing I did -- and it was from a convergence of dumb things -- was deciding not to sleep on the night of Sunday, October 20th. I got 8.5 hours of sleep and was doing pretty well, but I had calls scheduled at 3AM, 4AM, 6AM, 7AM, and a meeting at 9AM on Monday.
I didn't do that intentionally. All those times would have been shifted back an hour when they appointments were set (timezone difference). And that 9AM meeting slot was the only time I could catch up with an old friend of mine that I see infrequently, who is great company and always insightful.
I'd made it through almost all of the conference with my habits mostly intact, but this combination just drove a stake through my heart. Monday the 21st and especially Tuesday the 22nd were almost entirely hazy and distracted days. I also kept running into people I liked and socializing, not being entirely mindful of all the obligations I had, which led to some powerful realizations.
REALIZATION ABOUT BEING OVER-BANDWITH
I'd calibrated my schedule pretty much maximally before this, but now I was a bit behind.
There's something insidious of being behind, which is that there's often a lot of critical admin that needs to be done and appointments that can't be canceled. So what happens is, you either neglect the admin and let things burn (not ok), or you neglect longer-term projects that do high-upside development (also very poor).
I think a lot of people get stuck in this mode for basically their entire life. They're often off-track for whatever reason, and thus the "catch-up" they're playing is slogging through muck and admin.
It's incredibly unsatisfying, and life winds up like a miserable treadmill. The answer is to get ahead of the game, whatever it takes, and lower the incoming bandwidth of admin, details, fires, and whatever else so time can be spent on the most important and valuable things.
(Also, I could have built a few "vacation" type days during the conference, but I decided against it because I wanted to see what would happen -- and I figured I'd take a few really pure vacation days with nothing go on in Yunan, Laos, or Hanoi in a week or two.)
POTENTIAL OF HITTING THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
What's most interesting about the disruption of habits/routine isn't that a couple days were off-track in whatever area -- it's that then, it becomes much more possible to rationalize more days off-track.
My last day at the Pullman hotel buffet, I had about 4000 calories, and I said, "I'm going to skip eating tomorrow to justify this." That whole day, I really wanted to eat quite a lot. I managed to avoid it, and re-track my diet and nutrition.
But I'll tell you, it was hard. Much harder than it sounds like it should be, and much harder than I expected. I really feel like I could have fallen entirely off my diet at that point, either had I less awareness/willpower, or even if the environment hadn't shaken out a little differently.
That's scary for me to write, but I have to put it down to be honest with myself and you. I was not very far from falling off the rails, and who knows how long it would have been until I was back on?
Knock on wood, I seem to have stabilized a few days later. But this is why going off habits and routines is so dangerous -- after doing it a couple days in a row, it becomes very easy to consider doing it a third day, a fourth day, and suddenly you're back to the bad old days…
MIXES OF LARGE SCALE INSPIRATION AND NEW PROJECTS
I got a lot of new projects out of DCBKK, great innovations to make at GGW and in my personal life and work. Some marvelous things.
Interestingly enough, I was tempted to start work on those, again, over habits and routines.
Instead, I just re-did my time tracking template with some of the new observations i've learned, and made some adjustments to my daily commitments and goals. I've blocked out starting the day with a large project (whatever is largest), and scaled down some of the other daily must-do's. I'll post the new time tracking sheet after I test and iterate it a bit.
A FEW OTHER LESSONS
I'm going to get away from scheduling 4AM and 5AM calls, and start looking to do more calls in the Asia nighttime / USA morning range, and a few around late morning/lunch in Asia. Then I'm going to mix in better sleep discipline with fixed wakeup hours, and being proactive early in the day so as to not risk being off track.
I bought a jumprope, meaning it's now easy to do cardio anywhere regardless of the outside weather. I'm particularly excited about that.
I need to cut down the amount of time I spend socializing, setting harder limits on it.
I need to cut down the length of calls I have and compress more good time into calls, plus having general "Open Hours" where I'm online and anyone on my team or who I collaborate with can find me. I was averaging around 35 hours per week of calls for the last month; that can't go on when mixed with important projects and intense routines to follow and uphold.
I'm also going to change my mix of single-tasking and multi-tasking. I'm going to single-task more activities that are long and important, and try to focus on one project at a time until it's complete. I also find myself naturally answering email whenever I have little gaps in a schedule, or if I'm hanging out in a large group without it being rude to do so.
There's been many times in my life where I've implemented some great habit or routine, but only had it fall off later. There's also been habits, routines, and patterns I've put in place that have been going strong for many years now.
It's nice to go into an amazing situation while throng, knowing that it's somewhat dangerous, prepping for it, still getting the routines to hit a shaky patch, but then adjusting accordingly.
If you're not planning for negative contingencies to hit, you're not serious about succeeding yet. You've got to be able to take those in stride, and make adjustments to how you operate to keep the good things going.
Share your own experiences falling off a routine in the comments? Very curious to hear when you've good and bad -- is it getting ill that usually breaks you? Or is when too many opportunities come at you?
These Scorecards take a long time to write, and your feedback is very valuable to me -- would like to hear about your experience.
Sebastian very interesting to read your thoughts on this. I just woke up after a 16 hour marathon sleep, during my time in Bangkok I don't think I've ever slept less in my life over the course of 5 days. The disruption helps me get perspective on my old routines and inspires me to re-frame new habits in the future-- what should I be doing, when, and with whom and so on.
Also thanks for tolerating my buzzed up ramblings and for giving such great feedback. I always look forward to talking with you.
What are your thoughts about having a set time to to go sleep, rather than a set time to wake up? I believe Tynan does this.
Theoretically, it allows you to have as much sleep as you need that particular night naturally, instead of trying to set an arbitrary amount of sleep beforehand. You can set your bed-time time so you'll generally wake up at a particular time in the morning, but it allows the flexibility of less or more sleep if needed.
I find that if I even short myself on an extra half hour of needed sleep, it makes my day unbelievably more difficult compared to if I had gotten all the sleep I needed.
Well, in my experience, you can either constrain your bedtime or you can guarantee you'll finish all your work, but not both. I think there's a natural re-calibration when forced onto low sleep, in that you'll then go to bed earlier and nap more. It's kind of living on the edge though, which is why I'm working on better sleep discipline all the way around. Setting a fixed wakeup time/routine seems a way to cascade forwards and affect the next days, at the expense of a few bad days.
What a resource, so many good things to take in, amazing. I am working to get my routine up to this.
Reading some of the posts, here's a tip when injured, especially knee or foot. I dance, and there's something called a 'floor barre' which I modified. Velcro or tie small cushions to your feet and find a clean, wooden floor. Do the equivalent of snow angels, slow or fast, with alarmed intervals, alternating lifting and flat, abs in all the time. Use pull-on, cushioned wrist weights, they slide, and you can get heart rate up.
First Internal Scorecard for me. Great summary on your current activities, what's working, what's not. I'm currently on the CrossFit kick, specifically Powerlifting 3x/wk. If you're looking for a great bang for the buck workout, assuming you haven't seen it already, check out the Scientific 7-Minute Workout. I think having this as a back up plan for when we fall off the routine is helpful. Thanks for the post.
> First Internal Scorecard for me.
Also, how'd you find the site? Welcome. Glad you're here.
Glad to be here as well. Definitely inspired by the quality of the authors here which, in turn, inspires me to be consistent and focused with my responses. I came to find you (and the site) but virtue of a long + winding road of podcasts, starting with Meron Bareket's interview of Dane Maxwell, who I happened to catch again via Pat Flynn. This had me digging around for a bit more on Dane, which led me to his interview with Niall Doherty who, in turn, led me to you + your interview with him.
Something that's been really good for my admin and habits: having a solid girlfriend with traditional values. She helps admin because she cooks, cleans my clothes, can take care of small things with a lot of friction attached to them, etc. And habits because we can do things like paleo or whatever as a team, which reduces willpower a lot.
It's not very politically correct, but it works.
Any conferences you will be going to in the future btw? Maybe use a Google docs to keep a list and share with select people?
Re: cardio, tried burpees?
I have little to share but wanted you to know that I really appreciate the effort you put into these posts, they're insightful and inspiring in a way that I can't quite put my finger on.
I did need to stop my exercise routine three days ago as I screwed my back up again and rather than putting things on hold I substituted 20 minutes of meditation in its place over the last three days.
It seems quite see-thru, but I wonder if there's something to substituting one habit with another more conducive to the environment/circumstances, if the former isn't really feasible at the time?
These are just a few situations in which I've noticed I break new habits:
**These Internal Scorecards are extremely helpful & motivational! Keep up the great work Sebastian!
Most of the important aspects of my work work requires focus and creativity. One thing I'm realizing, then, is just how destructive it is When focus is thrown off first thing to start the day.
Here was the plan for Day 24 --
Sleeping at 8:50AM.
Setting alarm for 2PM -- 5 hours.
Have to be at Loft at 7PM.
Perhaps due to my new commitment to not oversleeping, the past 2-3 days have really been great. I had a couple light sleeps in my chair (<1 hour), but the overall quality of both my naps and my awake time continues to increase.
Today, for example, I haven't been tired for the past 24 hours. My minor oversleep of 30 minutes was because I was bored and just spacing out at my computer.
Each nap I've had in the past 24 hours was accompanied by an awesome dream, and naturally ended before my alarm clock. Usually when that happens I get another quick nap in before the alarm goes off, but when I woke up early on my most recent nap, I just got out of bed. The funny thing is that I was SURE that I overslept - I felt great and it seemed like I was in bed for hours.