Water Challenge: 17 day Wrap-Up

I’ve posted a little about my August goal of drinking a gallon of water a day. It’s 17 days in, and I’m extremely shocked that I continue to be on an almost perfect streak.

To hit the goal, I have been using my bullet journal to track daily the number of Kor water bottles I knock back. To hit a gallon, I need to drink five. The fact this bottle is so beautiful definitely helps me remember to put it to work. I left it at the gym once, and left work early to go look for it because I was so distraught.

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The Kor One bottle that goes everywhere with me.

As I reported in my week one wrap-up, drinking this much water makes you pee a lot. This is not all bad – if I wasn’t getting up to pee, I’d spend my entire day sitting on my butt, staring at my computer. This is not a side-effect that has gone away, but I’m not hating it as much. This is also assisted by the fact my office is conveniently near the bathrooms, so I’m not feeling the eyes of the office on me as I trudge to the bathroom for the one thousandth time.

I’ve dropped a little weight, although I would credit this more to starting the Sweat with Kayla app than drinking water – but all of it counts! Weirdly my skin is still not smooth, but I did take a before selfie and I’m crossing my fingers a face-by-face compare will show more results than my very judgmental eyes.

The biggest change I’m noticing is how I turn to water when I have a craving for something. Craving chocolate? Have some water. Craving a hot bowl of cheesey pasta for lunch? Have some water. Craving a coffee? Have some water. A few minutes later I find the craving goes away, and I’m generally feeling much better for it. This has highlighted to me how much health is a mind-game, and how necessary it is to have tools at your disposal to combat moments of weakness. While I’m definitely not against treating yourself or depriving yourself, I do believe in building self-discipline to know the right thing for you. Learning that drinking water addresses the root of many cravings for me is a really big step in my journey to find better balance. I’m looking forward to expanding on that knowledge and finding other tools to help me address cravings and indulgences when they aren’t what I want in the long term. The other big bonus is this saves me a tonne of money I would otherwise fritter away on the vending machine that’s dangerously close to my desk!

Only 13 days left of this challenge officially, but I don’t see it being a habit I want to give up. While there’s definitely no magic in drinking exactly a gallon a day, drinking more water can only be a benefit, and the concrete goal and internal peace I feel about the number five (completely unexplainable but completely there) is helping me keep it up.

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Morning Pages

When work gets overwhelming, I often find myself in the trenches of Pinterest, scrolling through beautiful productivity methods and lettering methods. The orderly presentation of beautiful things brings me a sense of calm, and a small ray of hope that I can actually achieve it.

Something that has been a recurring theme in these adventures across the internet is morning pages. Morning pages is a journalling concept, where you just write three pages of long-form journalling, preferably every morning. It almost functions like a brain-dump – just getting out all the stuff from your mind in the morning, so you can start the day clear-eyed and focussed.

Morning pages was the perfect solution to two things in my life: my 100-mile-a-minute mind, and my irrational collection of unused notebooks looking for a purpose. While I have kept a journal on-again off-again for as long as I can remember (literally, I kept journals when I was 5…what did I even write about??), I’ve been more off than on lately. Often the act of just sitting down to write is overwhelming, and I find myself just dwelling on the mundane – how much weight I want to lose / how work is hard / how I can’t wait for a break. All things that are true, but I find it difficult to push past those surface-level topics.

My two days of morning pages have both taken place in the evening. My morning routine is very deeply ingrained, and I haven’t yet reshuffled things to make room for writing in the morning. But I definitely see it being a habit that slowly shifts to the morning. For now, writing in the evening is both more appropriate to my daily routine, and also more appropriate considering the amount of crap that accumulates in my mind over the course of the day. It feels appropriately cathartic to let it all out on the page before going to sleep, and starting a new day.

In the end, morning pages, in and of itself, is nothing magical. But it is an opportunity or a key to kickstart, or reignite, a journalling habit. I’m excited to keep you updated on how it goes.

Inbox Zero

One of the most important habits I’ve implemented in both my personal and work email is reaching Inbox Zero on a daily basis. Email is an integral element of communication and identification now. And as a direct result of using your email as your identity for anything and everything, your email is a hot spot for serious clutter. Since getting rid of clutter is basically the ultimate unicorn goal of life, I wanted to share some useful tips in reaching Inbox Zero yourself.

Unroll.Me

I definitely struggled most with keeping my personal inbox at zero. I attribute this to a lot of things – but mainly that my personal email is just the place where every single online store registration, pointless competition or scoopon advertising email hides and multiplies. I tried the unsubscribe button, but I never seemed to clear all the junk that was already sitting in my inbox, until a colleague told me about Unroll.Me. Once you create an account, Unroll.Me scans your inbox and comes up with a list of all your email subscriptions. You can then go through and select to unsubscribe, keep in inbox or ‘roll up’ – that is, include that as part of a single summary email sent to you each day that gives a quick snapshot of all the emails you’ve expressed an interest in still viewing, without needing to see as a stand-alone item.

If you delete the roll-up email, but want to see what you received that day, you can check out your daily roll up on the Unroll.Me website once you’ve logged in. It’s a really accessible and usable interface, and you can check your past allocations of different lists in unsubscribe, roll up or keep, and change them if need be. To date, I’ve unsubscribed to 261 lists, rolled up 98 lists and kept only 45 lists in my inbox. That means I now receive at most 3 emails a day directly to my inbox, and I can quickly deal with them. My roll up email I receive each morning requires a quick scan of content and is quickly archived. All other emails are read and dealt with, or archived.

Maximise the app functionality

Until it was tragically discontinued, I used the Mailbox app administered by the same team that runs Dropbox. It was a magical app that used the swipe functionality of a smartphone to allow you to quickly and easily sort your emails – whether to delete them, mark as unread, get ‘sent’ to you again at a later date (basically reappear as though they were a new email on the day or a few days before they were actually relevant – great for concert tickets), or get filed away. As an extra bonus, every time you cleared to zero, you got a new daily picture. It was a magical time.

Although Mailbox is gone, the inbuilt Mail app on iPhones now has a lot of the functionality that Mailbox offered, including the ability to easily sort with a swipe. I find dealing with gmail on a laptop or desktop surprisingly clunky as you can’t just drag emails – you need to click to select, then move to folders (although I acknowledge this may be my lack of understanding of how gmail works…). Using the swipe functions is quick, simple, and intuitive, and can be done almost anywhere you go with your phone (which for me, is basically anywhere on this earth).

Rules

Setting up Outlook rules has been critical to maintaining my work email at Inbox Zero. I have no idea how to do them in google, but setting it up in Outlook is a quick process through the help icon. As a result, you can direct all your outside work / personal emails straight to the personal folder, avoiding awkward moments when your boyfriend emails you something ridiculous while your partner is in your office. And you can save yourself from that low-level stress that comes with flagging emails in your core inbox and never dealing with them – the emails are automatically sorted and listed as unread, and you can check the individuals folders as and when necessary.

I recommend starting with setting up rules for friends or family you email often in a non-professional capacity, redirecting those emails straight to a Personal folder. Then you can start playing with rules for certain types of emails you get regularly for certain projects that don’t require immediate attention.

Setting up a simple system of local folders

At work we have an integrated online document management system, which makes filing matter-specific folders very seamless. However, email is rarely limited to work-only matters, and it’s important to have a simple set of folders for filing emails you want or need to keep. I have 15 local folders set up to capture personal emails and non-billable project-specific emails. 15 is definitely more than I would like, but somehow I have quite a few projects going on. The benefit of Outlook is the powerful search function which allows you to find things quickly no matter where they are, so your folders can be more generic. I just haven’t overcome a compulsion to have a separate folder for each project, rather than more over-arching concepts like ‘Community Projects’ and ‘Yoga’.

Use those dead five minutes towards the end of the day

You know the ones I’m talking about. When you have Ctrl+Tab+Facebook’d on autopilot a couple of times and read a few articles blowing hot air on the latest non-issue (usually someone’s completely pointless faux-authoritative opinion on parenting, veganism or millenials), and it isn’t quite time to start work on something new, or there’s no motivation to finish something off…or you’re just in that delightful stage of CBF. Take just one minute to clear out all the emails in your core in box that you’ve dealt with, or don’t need to deal with any longer. Be ruthless with the delete key, and drag and dump the save-worthy emails into your local files. Only leave in your inbox what must absolutely be left behind. Challenge yourself to keep at 3 items or less.

These tips merged between personal and work inbox – which I tend to recognise as personal = gmail and work = Outlook. However, the key thing to come out of it is discipline. It is great to deal with your emails as and when you read them. But you only need to commit to once a day, getting rid of (either deleting or filing) everything that no longer needs to be front of mind, being those emails in your core inbox.

As you get into the habit of maintaining Inbox Zero, you’ll find that your stress levels lower as you aren’t faced with a scary pile of unfiled documents and uncertain locations. You’ll also find you don’t waste time looking at useless subscription emails who only aim to sell you stuff and steal your money, under the premise of a ‘once in a lifetime sale!’. They’re lying. It’ll be back. And you won’t need that sale – now or later.

All you need is to commit just a small part of your day to achieving a clutter-free inbox, and you’ll reap the benefits of a less cluttered mind.

 

 

A Standard Morning

I have become pretty obsessed with the world of habit and routine, and how to harness the power of those forces to maximise chances for a happy and healthy life. But much like setting a budget without knowing what your typical expenditures are, I found I was trying to introduce new habits and routines without taking a good look at what my current mornings typically involve. My goal was to examine what I currently do, highlight any red flags and come up with a strategy for how to address those red flags. This approach feels much more beneficial than just diving head first into a fully-formed brand new morning routine, since most of what I’d be doing is familiar; I’d just addressing some of the kinks.

My workday mornings are almost identical. My alarm is set the night before for 5.30am. I wake up between 5.20 and 5.30, and mess around on my phone, typically scrolling through a bunch of social media feeds that I don’t care about (hello red flag) for 5 – 10 minutes. I force myself out of bed, throw on exercise clothes which have been laid out nicely / chucked on the floor the night before. I stumble to the bathroom, weigh myself (is this a red flag?), put in my contacts, put up my hair (occasionally fruitlessly searching for a hair lackey), look around uselessly for a water bottle, look around uselessly for a towel (that was a tonne of red flags), grab the car keys and head downstairs to the garage. It’s usually around 5.52am at this stage.

I put on Pandora (my car radio is broken), and drive 7.5 – 8 minutes to my group fitness class, typically arriving 1 – 2 minutes late (red flag). I work out for 45 minutes, spend 5 minutes chatting, and drive back home, typically arriving between 7.00am and 7.02am. Instead of being nice and jumping in the shower, I instead go and wake up the boyf using a variety of techniques such as singing Let It Go from Frozen or ripping the sheets off or unceremoniously yanking the blinds open or crawling into bed next to him, sweaty and cold from the outdoor air and insisting he pay me some attention. I know. I’m a catch. I fill him in on what we did in class that morning, then jump in the shower while he puts on a pot of coffee, or vice versa.

We eat different things for breakfast, so I tend to cook first, while multi-tasking on my phone. At 7.26am my unroll.d summary email comes through, so I like to eat my morning omelette while perusing the latest blog updates and clothing sales. I lounge about until 7.40am, which involves some combination of playing on my phone (red flag), updating my food journal or scribbling in my normal journal, then do my dishes, blow dry my hair and do my face, while having overly loud and miscellaneous conversations with the boyf. I wonder how much less we’d talk if we lived in something bigger than a one-bedroom shoebox. I’m typically standing at the door, ready to go at 8.02am while impatiently tapping my foot as the boyf runs around doing all of his things at the last minute (perhaps a red flag in relation to my patience levels), pick up the rubbish, drop it off at the complex bins, then walk 10 minutes to work.

This runs on repeat most mornings. Overall, it’s pretty mundane, but there are some things I think are good, and some things that need work.

Things that are good:

  • Regular exercise. This is an entire post in itself, but building the morning exercise habit has done amazing things for me, physically and mentally.
  • The wake up the boyf routine. While I accept that I do go about this in the most obnoxious way possible, this little morning tradition is a surprisingly big part of our relationship. On the days I don’t do it, for whatever reason, we both miss it.
  • Journalling.

Things that are bad:

  • A significant amount of time is spent on my phone at various intervals throughout the morning.
  • Wasted time looking for hair lackey / water bottle / towel (stuff I need and use every single morning).
  • Always at least 1 – 2 minutes late to workout class.

Things that are missing:

  • Meditation.

My plan is to address the hair lackey issue. It’s probably the red flag that causes my blood to boil more than any other, and it is actually impossible to work out with your hair flying all around like a crazy person. And I want to apply the well-accepted principle of changing only one very small thing at a time. So my baby step for sorting out my morning red flags is to have a hair lackey ready for the morning. 

That was a whole lot of navel gazing, and I’m so sorry for that boring pile of drivel. But I really have found taking a microscope to my habits and activities has been important to improving my spending, my eating, and importantly on dealing with the brutality of being honest with yourself. 

Forget the last post that was self importantly declaring that I would take some time to just be in the morning. The real issue is I can’t do that because I can’t find my hair lackies. And that is going to change. 

The Flossing Habit

One of the things that most fascinates about the building habits world is how much of it is based around really boring things. ‘I want to floss more’ / ‘I want to exercise more’ / ‘I want to eat more vegetables’ / ‘I want to be tidier’/ ‘I want a clean kitchen’ / ‘I want to put the washing away’/ ‘I want to be more frugal’. Etcetera, etcetera. Yawn.

All of these things kind of suck. They are things we don’t want to do. Obviously. That is why we currently don’t do them. So what interests me is why despite not wanting to do them, we actually really want to do them: in fact, people are desperately searching for ways to take this thing they don’t currently do, and despise doing, and making it an integral part of their day.

It’s strange, and feels counter-intuitive. If the idea of doing something just this once is so repulsive that we go many years not doing it (for example, flossing), why on earth are we looking for ways to make this thing a habit? If I detest flossing so much, or am simply so apathetic that I never get off my butt to actually do it, then why am I trying to rehaul and redefine my life and my daily routine specifically to include this thing?

It must come back to the inherently automated nature of habits; that it is the very fact we do the act without thinking that is appealing, so that it removes the agonising decision process of saying I will floss! / but I don’t have any floss / okay I’ll buy floss! / damn I forgot to buy floss again / okay I bought floss for $6 from the convenience store because I’m going to floss! / brushing my teeth, having a great time / in bed, and realising that I forgot to floss?? / do I get out of bed? / yes, you bought the floss! / no, it’s warm and cosy here, you can floss tomorrow … play that on repeat, and honestly, who would voluntarily put themselves through that exhausting merry-go-round for each and every virtuous yet hated task in their day?

Once you have automated the process, you take away all of those thought processes above. That greatly unburdens the mind, and frees it up to think of wonderful things like unicorns and rainbows instead of the great debate of should I or should I not floss my teeth tonight? And somehow, magically, those teeth are still flossed! You are a better human, friend, child and lover; you are stronger than your desires and capable of doing that which must be done rather than what sounds fun to do. And very importantly, you learn that the thing itself is not so bad.

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So creating a habit is a magical way of taking a shortcut through the mental clutter and anguish to the actual doing of the thing. No frills, no fuss, no tears. The action is done, you’ve paid it no thought, you no longer wrestle with ‘but it’s boring’ or ‘I don’t want to’. However, to get to this magical stage, we gotta work. I’m sorry. But I speak as someone early in this very interesting process for many a boring task: it is so worth the work. I started the practice of habit with flossing (that little merry-go-around of thoughts above is effectively an extract of the transcript of my insane mind). It’s been the foundation for automating activities I decided I hated or sounded hard, but ended up being the cornerstones to a happier and more fulfilling kind of life, as it provided me a strategy for tackling procrastination, and removing the guilt associated with procrastination. So behold: my little story of the flossing habit.

I never ever flossed. Flossing was something I very successfully ignored for the better part of 25 years. Aside from the occasional visit to the dentist and firm reminder of flossing benefits, accompanied with a few half-hearted attempts to keep up the good work at home that died within a week, I merrily lived my life with nice teeth and no floss. It was a beautiful time. Until it wasn’t anymore. I created

I procrastinated the dentist for three years, for no reason other than I thought going would hurt and I didn’t really want to (did I mention I’m secretly still a teenager?). When I finally forced myself through the door in October of last year, I was faced with the miserable reality of needing three fillings, meaning a subsequent two trips to the dentist. This tragically turned into three trips when one of the fillings didn’t quite work. One of the key messages the dentist gave me, in his mellifluous Irish accent and granddad eyes was ‘for goodness’ sake woman, floss your damn teeth.’

I really took that message to heart. This dentist saga (okay it wasn’t that bad, but it was bad to me) was my trigger to floss every single day. I’ve become so addicted to flossing that sometimes I randomly floss throughout the day, and before and after I brush my teeth, just to catch any rogue food and avoid ever getting another filling. I know. It’s a fascinating tale. I’m in talks for the movie rights. But seriously – I created a flossing habit out of nothing. And you can too. How?

Just do it. Every single day after you brush your teeth, floss your teeth. This is commonly referred to as habit stacking: take one habit you already practice, and tack a new one on the end. Of course, you may not have the habit of brushing your teeth in the morning, in which case, let’s get on that first. But, I challenge you: floss your teeth every single day for one month. Just do it. Every time you start the bargaining cycle above, short cut or karate chop your way through it and refuse to engage. Then floss your teeth. When the month is up, you’ll go beyond the pain of habit creation to getting joy out of flossing. There’s tips and tricks on this too: for example, zen habits advocates starting small. Start with flossing just one tooth. Anyone can do that. Then build your way slowly to two teeth, and so on. But it doesn’t matter how you do it. Just do it. Every day, brush your teeth, floss, and go about your day.

If you are only just embarking on simplifying and routinising your life so that you may make space in your mind for the important things, flossing is an excellent habit to start with. Start up costs are around $1 for floss. Flossing barely takes any time. There’s no real cravings to contend with or fight off, or triggers for bad behaviour, except maybe the continue watching feature on Netflix. And from this simple habit, you will experience great health benefits, and great disciplinary benefits: you will begin to learn how it feels to short cut the bargaining, and exercise your discipline muscle. As that muscle gets stronger, it will be able to bear the weight of new habits, and continue to grow and develop to hold up a life of simple steps. But for now, nurture it with one small action, every day, day in and day out, and watch your simplified life blossom into greatness.