Noisy Deadlines

journal

Ok, so my experiment yesterday went pretty well. It was great not to have the email window open at all times and I did 1-hour sessions of deep work to focus on a specific project I have to get done by the end of the week.

I noticed I would catch myself pausing during the 1-hour session and having this twitch to peek at my email, but I every time I avoided opening it, because I knew I had planned a specific block to deal with emails.

Today I did the same thing, I have the reminders on my digital Calendar and my actual executing plan in my Time Block Planner (which I will tweak as I go):

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

The past 2 days at work I felt I was in total reactive mode answering emails and worrying about them 😐.

Monday was as terrible as Monday can be, and I regretted my decision to book an 8am dentist appointment to start the week. Note to self: don’t book appointments at 8am on Mondays. I was a complete mess, I couldn’t plan my week or my day, I had 3 meetings back-to-back, so it wasn’t going to be a very productive day anyway (again, Mondays are the worst).

Yesterday I was still feeling out of my game, I was tired, I had a headache and some low back pain. There was a lot of communication activities with my coworkers, answering questions, answering emails and phone calls. After I did my shutdown routine in the afternoon, I felt 10% better and I left work 15 minutes early. I went to the gym afterwards and my low back pain and headache disappeared, and I felt much better.

🎯 So today I decided to test out a fixed schedule to check emails, instead of having my emails tab always open.

My plan is to have half an hour blocks where I will open my email and process the inbox. After time is up I will close it and continue working on my tasks for the day. This is the gameplan:

✉ Check emails 4 times:

  • 8:30am => A block right after I do my morning Daily Review slot
  • 10:30am => Mid-morning check
  • 1:00pm => Post lunch check
  • 3:00pm => Mid-afternoon check

In my Shutdown Routine block at 4:30pm I will check it again to process any outstanding tasks I need to capture for the next day.

I set the emails blocks in my digital calendar so that I get a notification when they start:

I’ll see how that goes today!

Later!

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I came up with some questions yesterday about my GTD system when I was bored. I will jot down some notes about the first one:

What do I wish my system to do to support me?

That's a good question because a productivity system should be there to support me. It's how I got into GTD in the first place: I was searching for a way to be more organized and less stressed. I needed a framework on how to deal with all my life inputs and dreams.

So, how exactly can it help me?

Here are some of the elements that I wish my system should do to support me:

  1. Ease of use: I want it to be simple to use. I don't want to spend too much time or energy on managing my system, but rather on doing the things that matter. A good thought experiment is imagining a day when I'm sick: will I be able to use my system then? Will it be easy enough to use it when I'm not feeling 100%? A simple system is more resilient and adaptable to different situations and moods.

  2. Digital and multi-platform: It should be digital, multi platform and sync between my devices (mainly laptop and mobile). I want to be able to access my system from anywhere and anytime, without worrying about losing or forgetting anything.

  3. Reminder system: It should be able to remind me of things. On days when I'm most distracted having a reminder pop-up on my devices really help me not forget important things. Sometimes I need a gentle nudge to get started on a task or to follow up on something. Reminders also help me keep track of deadlines, appointments, events, etc. that I don't want to miss.

  4. Punch list: It should be easy to narrow down next actions into a “punch list” so that I can plan which tasks I will work on each day. One of the key concepts of GTD is breaking down projects into actionable steps that can be done in one sitting. This helps me avoid procrastination and overwhelm by focusing on the next thing I can do. Having a punch list of these next actions also helps me prioritize and schedule my day according to my energy, context and goals

  5. Aesthetically pleasing: It should be fun to use and visually appealing. I think having a system that I enjoy using makes a big difference in my motivation and mood. I like to customize my system with colors and emojis and also it is rewarding to hear a sound when an action is completed. These little things make me happy and keep me engaged with my system.

Of course, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, but after reflecting on this question, I'm rethinking some of the tools I use. I knew that the visual appeal was important to me, and I feel that lately it has become even more important.

Here is a quick diagnostic of the tools I currently use:

  • Calendar/Email => Outlook: I see no issues here. It's easy to use. I use the web version of Outlook in both my work and personal accounts. I like how it looks, it sends me reminders, it's available on all my devices. I can sync my personal and work calendars to see whole picture.
  • Task Manager => NirvanaHQ: It's relatively easy to add things to the Inbox. If compared to other tools, processing stuff is not that easy because there are drop downs menus and selections to go through each time. Aesthetically speaking it is not my favorite. Adding emojis to it make it less boring. I like it for its neat organizational buckets and multi platform sync. I can make a punch list using the Star feature.
  • Reference system => OneDrive/Standard Notes/One Note: I enjoy using all these tools. They are multiplatform and accessible in all my devices. I enjoy their user interface; I see no issues. I don't need reminders in these tools.

🧐 So, I am looking at you, NirvanaHQ! I will give it some thought. More later.

—-

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I couldn't do almost any of my work tasks I had planned for today in the weekly review I did Friday!

I looked at the Nirvana Focus list today and my brain was like:

“Nah, too many things! And look! They are all boring. Can I have my snack now? Let’s grab some tea! ” 🙄

So today was a day I drowned in boredom. I did some quick and easy tasks that showed up on my email inbox. But I couldn't start any of the projects related tasks I had on my Focus list. And I couldn’t revise the list either. I just wanted to wander a little bit. I journaled. I organized some stuff. I read some RSS feeds. I asked myself questions:

  • Did my to-do app (Nirvana) seem overwhelming? => Maybe, I looked at it and I thought “Oh, how boring! And…I don’t know where to start”.
  • Did I have too many tasks on my focus list? => I had 6 tasks listed there, with an estimated duration of 5 hours total.
  • Were the tasks too daunting? => One of them required a lot of focus and energy. And it would probably take me 1-2 hours to complete (maybe more).
  • Were any of the tasks in a tight deadline? => Not really, there were no hard deadlines to complete them today.

So, what's going on?

To be honest, I'm not 100% sure.

But I think it's a combination of the Monday effect with me feeling tired and no pressure from deadlines.

Although I did my work weekly review on Friday, I failed to do my personal weekly review on Sunday. I had a conference call with my family on Saturday night that finished later than I wanted, so I woke up later on the Sunday and that derailed my Sunday routine a little bit. I felt like I was playing catch-up and when I got to work this morning, I still had unfinished thoughts about my personal stuff.

I got a little bit off track. So I woke up already feeling exhausted this morning.

But this whole day of boredom got me thinking about my tasks system:

  • What do I wish my system to do to support me?
  • Where and when do I want to see my system?
  • Do I want my system to remind me of things? How?
  • Do I feel like there's friction in using my system?
  • Does looking at my lists repel me?
  • When is the best time to do my personal weekly review?

I don't have all the answers to those questions, but I feel like today’s experience has brought some things to my attention that I will reflect more on this week and see what happens.

—-

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

For the first time in years, I did plan the next week on a Friday!

I'm finding that the best time to do a Work Weekly Review is Friday afternoon, after 3pm. Now that things at work are at a more manageable pace, I can really appreciate this time for reflection.

I set up a recurring event in my calendar for Fridays at 3:30pm to start my Work Weekly Review. The total duration is 1 hour followed by my usual daily Shutdown Routine of 30min before I leave. That means I have plenty of time to:

  • process my inboxes
  • review my calendar
  • check off completed tasks
  • process my notes
  • update project notes
  • jot down some notes about what is coming up next week (that I will use to make my Weekly Plan)

But today I actually managed to start my Weekly Plan in advance! I usually work on it on Monday mornings, but this time I was able to put it all in there, ready for when I get back to work next week 🥳.

So, I’m calling this my Friday Afternoon Work Ritual and I will try to protect this time as much as I can this year.

This is how I'd like my work to be: manageable workload, clear deadlines, no rush, no emergencies, plenty of time for reflection / reviews. I know it's not going to be like this forever, so I better enjoy it while I can!

Have a great weekend!

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

Photo by Spencer on Unsplash

As I think about what I want for 2024, it's not about big goals to be a different or better person. I just want to keep doing my thing and enjoy the ride. My focus will be SELF-CARE 🍵.

Some thoughts on what I wish for 2024:

  • Let this be the year of rest and taking care of myself! My wellness is more important than anything else.
  • Do more of what I enjoy!
  • Being mindfully present with my leisure time.
  • Keep on managing stress. Do less, keep it simple!
  • Keep practising my key routines:
    • Morning routine with yoga + meditation + journaling
    • Applying the GTD methodology
    • Time Blocking at work to manage workload and focus
    • Work Shutdown routine to manage stress
    • Exercise regularly: gotta keep moving!
    • Celebrate progress! 🙌

Here's to 2024 being all about taking it easy, looking after myself, and enjoying the little things. 🌈✨

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I've had a morning routine for years now. This routine hasn't changed much over time, and I consider it to be key to my mental health and wellbeing.

This year, I focused on continuing to do the work to become more centered and grounded. I started regular therapy sessions, and they helped me a lot! This journey made me understand which habits were essential to me. I knew they were important because I've been practising it for years, but what changed this year was my mindset towards them.

My morning routine habit started when I read this book “The Miracle Morning” by Hal Elrod in 2016. It was life changing at the time, I followed all the exercises, and it stuck with me. The principle is to wake up early and focus on activities like: mindfulness, exercise, reading, journaling. I remember it was flexible, I could choose which activities best fit my needs. After years of trial and error, I ended up with my current morning routine, which includes:

  • Yoga
  • Meditation
  • Journaling
  • Reading

These became my “keystone habits” as Cal Newport would call them, and this year I realized that if I skip them for a day or two, I suffer the consequences. They have become part of my wellness maintenance routine.

With the help of therapy this year, I understood how important they are, but I also changed my mindset. I used to think that if I didn't do at least 30min of yoga that would be a useless session, so why bother? I held unrealistic expectations, thinking that if I couldn't dedicate a substantial amount of time to each activity, it was futile. It was a complicated relationship: I felt good when I completed some of my habits, but I was constantly frustrated because “I should have done more”.

So what changed?

After some trial and error and I ended up with my “sweet spot” routine: a minimum yet impactful sequence that aligns with my schedule. I can extend the durations over the weekend or on a day off work, but I always start with:

  • Wake up, use the bathroom, drink water, get to my yoga mat
  • Yoga: 15 min yoga + 3 min savasana (the yoga resting pose). I use the DownDog app.
  • Meditation: 10 min (I use the Daily Calm meditations on the Calm app
  • Have breakfast with my partner. Read a little bit while having breakfast.
  • Take a shower, brush teeth, get dressed for work.
  • Journaling: Sit down with my laptop and do a 10 to 30 min writing session.
  • Maybe read some more before leaving if I have time.

To be able to do that, I wake up at 5am, and I'm usually leaving for work at around 7:40am. It's been working great for me! I feel I have more energy, I am less anxious, and I start the day with a sense of accomplishment.

There are days when I only complete one or two of those activities because of an early appointment, or none at all because I'm sick or something, and that's okay! I know I will get back to them next time. I try not to skip more than twice in a row.

My yoga/meditation/exercise corner

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I’ve had some rough weeks these couple of months in terms of dealing with my own anxiety. I’ve had ups and downs: one week I’m thriving, the other I’m overwhelmed. The past two weeks I’ve been feeling everything is great: I’m not feeling overwhelmed, I’m sleeping well, I have no pain or aches, I’m not having racing thoughts, and I’m not drowning in worry.

In my therapy session this week, my therapist asked me why I was feeling better, and what has changed that made me feel this way now?

I looked back at my journal entries and my weekly notes and came up with 4 reasons:

  1. Journaling in the morning and protecting my morning routine: I skipped some of this routine and my days became out of focus, filled with anxiety and stress. My morning routine became my rock, I really feel out of wack when I miss it. It consists of moving my body (usually Yoga, but also stretching and body weight exercises), meditation and journaling. These 3 combined give me a push to start the day mindfully.

  2. Planning on Mondays: I noticed how important it is for me to do a longer session on Monday mornings to plan the week. I've been using Cal Newport's second edition Time Block Planner, and it's been great! Lots of space to plan the week. And I’m also changing my Monday mindset: Mondays are for planning and catching up, I don't need to accomplish any big tasks on Mondays and that's okay. This helped go through the past 2 weeks handling 5 concurrent projects at work that I thought I wouldn’t be able to manage.

  3. Realizing that I need a Work Weekly Review on Fridays: It needs to be separate from my personal weekly review, and it needs to be before the weekend, so I don't stress about work when I don’t want to. This was huge! After years practising GTD I didn’t realize that I could have 2 separate weekly reviews, and that it would make such a difference to my mental health.

  4. Having the new car situation resolved: It was a relief to be certain that I could maintain my morning routine now that we solved the issues of our morning commute. Not having to leave earlier because of the logistics of taking buses and carpooling saved me a lot of mental stress. I didn’t realize how much this worry was weighting down on me. My morning routines are the rocks of my day! Can't miss them!

So I’m basically back in my groove, writing things down, planning my days and weeks and doing my shutdown routine at work. These routines allow me to be more focused at work and allow me to be mostly stress-free.

All these reflections led me to also rethink my GTD tools (more on that later)😉

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I read this blog post by Sylvia this morning and I really liked the idea of having a list of things to remember every day.

I went back to a document I have called “Purpose and Principles” that I wrote as part of my GTD system. In this document, I have a list of my Core Values and a mission statement. Inspired by the blog post above, I updated my list with my:

♥ Things to Remember Every Day

  1. Stay calm and remember to breath.

  2. Wake up with mindfulness (yoga and meditation).

  3. Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. (— by Michael Pollan)

  4. If overwhelmed, take 3 deep breaths and do a mind sweep!

  5. I won't judge anyone (including me!)

  6. Be curious about the world. Read books.

  7. Sleep is essential.

  8. Move your body a little bit every day.

  9. Say NO! Avoid over commitment.

  10. Celebrate progress 🙌.

I copied this list to the start of my daily physical notebook and I will also put a copy of the list on my whiteboard at home.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.

I was listening to Cal Newport’s podcast episode 262 and in the final segment he commented on a video by Better Ideas about overstimulation. The video discusses social media addiction, internet addiction and its relation with dopamine. Inspired by the video, Cal Newport then suggests some solutions to the problem.

In summary, his advice to combat online overstimulation is simply:

Don’t use things that cause overstimulation!”

The reasoning behind it is to avoid giving opportunities for our brains to fire up the dopamine response. Dopamine is released when we anticipate doing something pleasurable. So if we get used to reaching out for something entertaining all the time, we will be constantly seeking that stimulation. And nowadays, there are infinite ways to get that dopamine hit at our fingertips instantly.

Cal Newport makes an analogy with smoking: to get rid of this addiction, the end goal is to quit smoking. The solution is never getting used to a regime of smoking less or controlling when and where you smoke: the solution is to actually quit.

So he suggests we remove sources of overstimulation from our lives:

  • Delete all social media! Simple as that.
  • Don’t scroll online news. Subscribe to one or two interesting newsletters instead, or listen to one podcast with daily events if you need to keep up to date with news.
  • Videos and YouTube: YouTube can be a good source of information if used well. Install AdBlockers and Distraction Free extensions for YouTube to eliminate the automated recommendation feature. Another tip is to watch YouTube on a TV in your living room, like you would sit down to enjoy a movie.
  • And the most important tip is to replace all the distractions with high quality entertainment: movies, music, books, high quality videos, documentaries. The more we consume high quality content, the less we will enjoy junk information. We will eventually lose our taste for shallow content.

From my experience, this approach works. I’ve deleted major social media accounts years ago (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter) and nowadays, I don’t miss those services. I’ve recently tried to use Mastodon as a lightweight alternative to social media. Even if Mastodon is open, decentralized and have no algorithmically generated timelines, the model still mimics Twitter, and I was feeling similar FOMO effects using it.

So, I’m keeping away from Mastodon for 30 Days. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to use it without feeling distracted. I might eventually delete my account. We’ll see.

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By Noisy Deadlines Minimalist in progress, nerdy, introvert, skeptic. I don't leave without my e-reader.