You fellas have nothing to worry about. I’m a professional.

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In my final official experiment of 2017, I went a little crazy. I pulled out all the stops! Threw caution to the wind!

I took an exam!

I decided early this year to attempt Project Management Professional (PMP) certification through the Project Management Institute, which requires a bunch of training hours and a 4-hour test. My studying was going slower-than-desired, so I folded it into an experiment to accelerate the process. For 2 weeks I immersed myself deep into project management and test prep.

Podcasts. I replaced my normal queue with as many PMP-related podcasts as I could find. I landed on these three, continuing to listen to them well after the experiment.

The Dip. After the initial excitement the first few days, I struggled to keep my energy up for continued studying. One day I completed four 1-hour study sessions. Brain fried and drooling a little, I fell into the waiting arms of Parks & Rec.

I was still behind the pace of the group, but gaining steadily. (And crying, again, over Li’l Sebastian.)

The Experiment Pays Off. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”

Before this experiment I was well behind pace on these employer-provided study sessions. After diving in the first week, I was selected as a “Top 25 Performer” in our company’s PMP prep class. This afforded me an opportunity for additional training reserved for the “top students” (cough, cough).

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

All’s Well that Ends Well: Eventually I completed the application process, scheduled the 4-hour-running-clock exam, and passed it (all while peeing twice and eating a snack – take that, running clock). Now I can call myself a PMP into infinity (well, as long as I pay annual dues) and live happily ever after.

Photo Credit: www.iamclosetgeek.com 


During 2017 I conducted 10 different 2-week experiments and wrote about each one here:

  1. Address Book Lottery
  2. Experience Tranquility
  3. Less, but Better
  4. Eat Real Food
  5. 12 Minute Workout: It’s easy just kidding
  6. Coffee Break
  7. Make Good Art
  8. Give Thanks. Complain. Repeat.
  9. Look! Free Money!
  10. You fellas have nothing to worry about. I’m a professional.
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Look! Free Money!

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For this experiment I spent 2 weeks learning how much money I wasted buying literally nothing.

Paperless Statements + Auto Pay. Years ago I embraced the “conveniences” of automatic bill payment and paperless statements for most bills. In other words, I stopped paying attention. It dawned on me that maybe that was a bad idea, so I started reading.

Here’s what I found.

Electricity: Warning – math and science below. 

From a recent (winter season) bill in Seattle:
Level 1: First 944 Kilowatt Hours (KWH) at 7 cents per KWH = $66
Level 2: (we used an additional 573 KWH) at 13 cents per KWH = $75

We paid more for the last 573 KWH than the first 944. So reducing just a little will go a long way.

Light Bulbs: “Kill the Kilowatts” started with replacing some incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents and LEDs. And over the summer I realized we get about 22 hours of daylight, we opened the blinds. Free lights!

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Trash Collection: At our house garbage rates increase by bin size. We’d been paying $34/month for our half-filled 32-gallon trash can. By changing to an 18-gallon container for $26/month, we’ll save $96 in the next year by DOING NOTHING DIFFERENT!

Water In, Water Out: Complaint of the day: I don’ t like paying for water twice – first out of the faucet, and then down the drain. What if we could reduce one or both? Could “pasta water” be dumped outside – or water the flowers? What if we composted more and used the garbage disposal less? How many weeks days can I wear jeans before washing? How important is flushing, really?

Dog Food: We’ve been proudly serving our dogs two different “5-star” foods. Then I learned a dirty little secret: Big dogs and little dogs can eat the same food because it’s literally the same food. Switching to one shared bag, and reducing from “5-star” to “4.5-star” food (don’t tell the neighbors), we’ll save $200 in the next year.

Car Fit Bit: I added a Bluetooth device to the car (State Farm Drive Safe & Save) that allows them to collect user data like miles driven, speed, deceleration, and my innermost thoughts. Since I rarely leave our neighborhood anymore, our annual cost savings is estimated at $200 for DOING NOTHING DIFFERENT.

Too Much Data: I discovered we had been using 7 GB of a 15 GB cell phone shared data plan. I was flabbergasted that AT&T didn’t tell us we were buying data we don’t need! By reducing our plan from 15 GB to 10 GB, we will save $10/month by DOING NOTHING DIFFERENT.

Just a Little Patience: I found a door-mounted pull up bar on Amazon and put it in my shopping cart. While deciding whether to purchase, the same item popped up in our neighborhood giveaway group! It pays to procrastinate.

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Final Tally. By identifying a few hidden costs, we are set to save more than $600 in the next 12 months on those things that required little-to-no change. I spent roughly 2 hours of combined research, paperwork, etc., to make it happen.

What else is out there?  How might we recoup even more?

Image credits (top to bottom): 401(K) 2012 via Flickr Commons; https://flic.kr/p/aYWk56. Keith Ellwood via Flickr Commons; https://flic.kr/p/dWRtep. Gary Larsen.

Give Thanks. Complain. Repeat.

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Experiment date: April 17-30, 2017. More experiments available here.

 

In this 2-week experiment I tracked two actions  – gratitude and complaining. I attempted to not complain for 14 days, failed miserably, and noted the details. Second, I tried to reflect on daily moments of thankfulness.

Day 1: Let’s Do This. The sun is out, spring is coming, and I walked the dogs without a jacket. In April. In Seattle.

In The No Complaint Experiment the author used a rubber band around his wrist as a reminder of his complaints. I adopted the practice, moving my own Bracelet of Remembrance each time I complained.

Day 2: Mmmm… Breakfast. I love the smells of breakfast – coffee (especially after this previous experiment), eggs, and sausage. Also coffee.

Day 3: Driving is Hard. I complained twice before 9am. Bad Driver #1 moved way too fast near the middle school.  Bad Driver #2 turned left at a roundabout. I scowled, gave him “the finger (not that finger) in a circle” motion – the international sign for “Hey moron, it’s a roundabout!” I’m sure he appreciated my traffic lesson. I got to practice moving a rubber band from wrist to wrist.

Day 4: I Love Technology. Today I accessed a book from the library without standing up. Or reading. The Overdrive app is a work of genius, bringing audio books to my ears for free, courtesy of Seattle Public Library. Gratitude all round – to the author for writing the words, the library for acquiring access, and tech nerds for building the phone and the app. Welcome to the future, people.

Day 5: I Hate Technology. The next morning the audio book skipped a chapter. I cursed at my stupid phone and the dumb, broken app… and then moved my little rubber band.

Day 6: Working from Home. For the past 8 years I’ve worked as a full-time telecommuter. It was sunny and 62 degrees, so I extended our afternoon dog walk to enjoy a Vitamin D boost and maybe encounter another human. Of course, I did all this in pajama pants and Crocs.

Day 7: Happy Birthday. I turned 41 today, so I started with gratitude for the 14,975 days on the Earth so far. I had shied away from social media earlier in the year, but Facebook is a must-visit on your birthday. I enjoyed dozens of well-wishes from friends and family, and I was grateful for relationships both online and off.

Day 8: Zelda. I’ve remained an avid apologist for play in general and video games in particular. The Legend of Zelda is my favorite video game series of all time, and it had been many years since the last proper Zelda title. I’m grateful for the latest installment, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a masterpiece in game design.

Day 9: Free Stuff. Our neighborhood has a Buy Nothing Project group created to share items and services. Users can offer a gift or ask for support as needed. The group also posts gratitude to each other, which is really cool.

Day 10: Mmmm… Donuts. I would not have guessed Safeway would’ve been part of this experiment, but here we are. Safeway Monopoly combined two amazing things: the retro fun of licking stamps and free donuts!  After indulging, I immediately revisited the 12 Minute Workout.

Day 11: Togetherness.  If you’re looking for community, I have a sure-fire solution:  Complain. We are all too busy, and burdened with bills and kids and dogs and clients and weather and wrong-way drivers!

Not complaining is hard! (moving rubber band)

Day 12: Connection. Today I e-mailed a mentor from high school to express my appreciation of his impact. We had barely interacted for 20 years, so frankly I was a little nervous to send the note. “Hey Coach – You were on my mind this week, and I’m trying to take some time to reach out to people when they’re on my mind…”

His response was more than I ever could’ve hoped for, starting with, “You don’t know how much it means to me to hear from you…”  Our e-mail conversation made my week.

Day 13: Saturday! Sleep! Soccer! It was another sunny day, we all slept in (even the dogs), and I had soccer tickets. As the Sounders allowed three goals in the first half, I literally complained enough to break my rubber band.  In the final 15 minutes they miraculously scored three goals of their own,  snatching a draw from the jaws of defeat!

(I know! A tie! How exciting!)

Day 14: Making Long Hair Short. Courtesy of the aforementioned Sounders’ miracle comeback and a coupon from Great Clips, I enjoyed a free haircut!  Look at that smile of gratitude!

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For more on gratitude, I recommend this article, The Gratitude Journal, and this book, The Complaint Free World.

Photo Credit (top): Brian Brown, https://flic.kr/p/guLg2x

Photo Credit (bottom):  Brian Chandler, selfie, iPhone 7. Edited with Irfanview, one of the oldest and best image viewers/editors of all time.

Make Good Art

Preface: My primary purpose of this post is to convince you to watch this Neil Gaiman commencement speech – one of my favorite presentations of all time.

In 6th grade a friend taught me to draw a simple maze, and since then I’ve drawn mazes on chalkboards, envelopes, sidewalks, and any other surface I can find.  For this 2-week experiment I drew a maze every day, producing 14 little pieces of art.

Day 1. I decided to draw a maze on a Post-it Note. It’s small so I can create it in just a few minutes. Also, I have to think ahead a bit, because there isn’t much room for messing around. Third, the Post-it is the perfect size and shape to scan and upload to Instagram, which seemed fun, so I tried it. Here is Maze #1.

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Day 2, 3, 4. By drawing mazes on Post-It Notes, I developed a quick idea, executed it, and 3 minutes later created a thing to share.

Day 5, 6, 7. I added another Post-It Note maze over the weekend, and then began thinking about other maze-related art to create, like larger art projects or something related to the process.

Day 8. As I was cleaning up some old journals today I found mazes I had drawn years ago, so I posted them. After uploading, I wasn’t sure what to do with the hard copies of papers and Post-Its. Keep in a drawer? Throw them away? Stick them on a wall?

Day 9. I have never had formal training in “maze design,” and I don’t even know if there such a thing. So today I tried to figure out how to make an effective maze in a very small space – a 6×6 grid. With only 36 squares I created this.

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It was not the most challenging puzzle, but maybe a good start toward “basic maze theory” (again, I think I made that up). What are the fewest number of grid squares to make a truly challenging maze? What makes a maze fun?

Day 10. As I figure out how many 6×6 mazes I can make, I felt like I was learning something, and I had a feeling I might’ve stumbled upon actual design principles with real names and rules and stuff. Or maybe I’m just a big nerd. Probably both.

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Day 11. I got some new pink Post-it Notes! Woohoo!

Day 12-14. I found and scanned a few more older mazes. I also thought about some fun ideas for the future, like sticking the Post-It notes randomly in public places so people could work a maze if they wanted to, or just take it with them.

For now I’ll keep messing around with it, posting mazes as I make them at @littlemazes on Instagram.

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Coffee Break

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During most of my life I did not have interest in coffee. My college study sessions were fueled by Jolt Cola (All the sugar! Twice the caffeine!), and – somehow – my infant-induced sleep deprivation did not drive me to drink (at least not coffee).

Then I moved to Seattle.

Now I am a java junkie, like my father before me. The first pot in the morning has become unconscious ritual. Coffee is a normal part of my life. Every day.

So I got an idea. An awful idea. I got a wonderful, awful idea. “I know just what to do!” I said with an evil Grinch grin, “I’ll skip coffee for two weeks and see if I become a monster.”

So that is the experiment – no complex rules, just don’t drink coffee. No decaf. No Sanka.

Day 1: And so it begins. My first “replacement” attempt was Celestial Seasonings Blueberry Zinger. It did not go well.

However, I was surprised that a few hours into the day I did not feel my body was missing the caffeine.  I wasn’t groggy or comatose – just annoyed by the disruption to my normal.  Then 3:00 happened.  Headache. Advil.

Day 2. Woke up with an increasingly-strong headache behind my eyes. I have a bad feeling about this.

Day 3. For the past two days I continued making a morning pot of coffee for my wife (I know, I know – partner of the year).  I assumed this might make it harder to not drink it, but I found the opposite to be true. Keeping some of the experience, the ritual, eased the pain.

Day 4. Today I miss the can-do attitude of Coffee. When I turn to my mug for an afternoon caffeine boost, Tea stares back at me like a grandmother, with kind eyes and wise counsel. Tea is patient. Tea is kind. But Tea does not care about my deadlines. Tea does not share my fear of failure.

But Coffee! Coffee is my partner in crime. My encourager of deeds. My “Yes, you can do it, but you need my help. Drink up, Tasky McTasker, and get the job done!”

Day 5. I’m feeling dehydrated today, realizing a significant proportion of my fluid intake is usually – you guessed it – coffee.

Day 6. Oh, Saturday morning, waking slowly, pouring a cup-o’-Joe, watching my wife drink it as I jealously try tea again.  Discovery: green tea tastes like water, but worse.

Day 7, 8. Guess what? There are more flavors of tea than black, green, and Lipton! Last night a friend introduced me to Lapsang Souchong, also known as “gun powder tea.”  This stuff is smoky, strong, and bitter. Maybe we’re getting somewhere!

Day 9. I went into a coffee shop! A Seattle. Coffee. Shop.  I breathed through it, ordered an interesting-looking, fancy-ass tea, and liked it almost as much as coffee.*

* That is not true.

Day 10-13. Through all the internal (ok, and external) complaints during this experiment, the headaches subsided and I feel better – especially in the afternoon – without coffee. So I’ve started researching decaf in an attempt to make the switch. I cannot believe I just typed that sentence.

Day 14. The transition is complete. I found a decaffeinated coffee to try and carefully informed the household.

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Epilogue. So, I tried this decaf idea for a few weeks, learned more about tea, and then discovered something very important.

I really, really like coffee.

Upper photo credit: Rafael Saldaña, https://flic.kr/p/Tub7ea

Eat Real Food

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The worst day to start a new diet?  January 1.

Immediately, New Year’s Eve’s leftovers beg to be consumed. Four weeks later, the Super Bowl party offers an array of meats and cheeses and dips and beers. Then come the sweets. The Girl Scouts start Sugar Season with their aggressive sales tactics and fructose-gluten bombs. Add Valentine’s chocolates to the mix, and by mid-February I’ve given up on healthy eating for the year.

The Experiment:  Indulge in all the goodness of early-year treats, and then start a new health style mid-year. I stuck to Michael Pollan’s basics: “Eat real food. Mostly plants. Not too much.” I  eliminated added sugars and “white carbs” (bread, rice, potatoes), drastically reduced dairy and any caloric drinks, and stuck mostly to fruits, vegetables, eggs, and beans.

One more rule.  I took a photograph of EVERYTHING I ate, from a full meal to a single “lick the spoon off” bit of peanut butter.  Every single thing.

Day 1. I’ve always snuck a few bites while fixing breakfast or packing lunches for the kids, and then licked the knife of cream cheese or peanut butter or jelly or all of the above.  My new photo requirement (inconvenience of getting my phone out, and the potential embarrassment of 14 cream cheese pics) changed how I ate.

At 10:30 my internal “cereal alarm” went off. Instead, I poured another cup of coffee, and noted that I might need a bigger breakfast the next day. I literally ate four times today, compared to my “snack and graze” norm. Thanks, observation bias!

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Day 2. This morning I was full before I finished my breakfast, so I wrapped it up and put it in the fridge.  Maybe, just maybe, I could ask myself questions in the midst of eating.

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Day 3. I visited the grocery store last night, which made today feel – dare I say – exciting. Apples and bananas, peanuts and almonds, broccoli and kale!  Yahoo!

Also, I scheduled a dinner with friends, so I know that’ll be a diversion from the ideal, but not necessarily a problem for the experiment.   Instead of grabbing bear claws two at a time, I’ll try just one.

Day 4. Oh boy – Our family had pizza tonight. I passed, instead warming up leftover chicken soup…again.

Day 5. It is well-known by family and friends that my two favorite food groups are raw dough and raw batter. Today was a triumph in will power:  I made brownies and did not lick the bowl. I repeat, I made brownies and did not lick the bowl. It was the worst day so far.

For primarily social purposes I indulged in pizza, beer, and ice cream tonight.  Weekends will be tough. I definitely could have passed on some of this, but it was fun and tasty to enjoy a meal with friends.

Day 6. In preparation for my son hosting a sleepover tonight, I purchased 27 food items that I will not eat.  I anticipate a rough Experiment Week 2 if there are leftover Doritos lying around the house.

Day 7. Another batter miracle. I made pancakes and once again I did not lick the bowl.   I don”t even know who I am anymore.  Lesson Learned:  Eating with healthy rigor on the weekends is not sustainable.

Day 8.  Huh, my belt has a third hole?  Who knew?

Day 9. Last night I dreamed I was at a celebration dinner. I enjoyed a feast of all my favorite foods, and then I was horrified to realize I had forgotten to take pictures!

Subsequently, back in real life I forgot to take a picture of my breakfast, and then a few hours later I forgot to take a photograph my lunch. Dreams are weird.

Day 10. I woke up bored for my upcoming breakfast and ready to stop this stupid game. I really wanted carbs. Bad. So I made a bowl of muesli. It was great.

I made chocolate chip cookies and did not lick the bo…

That’s not true. I totally licked the bowl and spatula and ate raw cookie dough with a spoon and it was amazing and I have zero regrets.

Day 11. Belt hole number two – good to see you again. It’s been too long.

Days 12-13-14. Weekends are hard, but I stuck pretty close to the plan. I ate a couple Oreos and loved every bite.  Another lesson: Purposeful treats in small quantities increased my enjoyment of them. I can remember every single “unhealthy food” I ate the last 2 weeks, and each was an event.

Epilogue. A couple months later I’m not photographing meals or strictly limiting carbs, but I do try to make eating fun food an experience.  I pour cheap beer into a chilled glass, professionally plate chips and salsa, and garnish apple pie with a careful dollop of trans-fat-full, not-even-real-food, worth-every-bite Cool Whip.

And then I lick the spoon.

Further Reading. I used a combination of strategies from Michael Pollan, Tim Ferriss, and Darya Pino Rose, each of whom address food from a different-but-complementary angle.  If you’re looking for a single book or approach, I recommend Foodist by Dr. Rose.

Also, I’ve conducted and written about a few other experiments here:

  1. Address Book Lottery
  2. Experience Tranquility
  3. Less, But Better
  4. 12 Minute Workout: It’s easy just kidding

12 Minute Workout: It’s easy just kidding

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This year I’m conducting a wide-ranging series of 2-week self-experiments. This is Experiment 4.

As a 10-year-old I borrowed a Joanie Greggains workout cassette from my mom, and then spent the summer with Barry Manilow as my soundtrack, Copacabana-ing myself from husky to slightly-less-husky.

Fast forward 30 years, and my life involves mostly sitting in a chair looking at screens of various shapes and sizes. I sometimes get inspired to go for a jog (not true – running is death) or hunt down the old dumbbells in the garage (pretty much never).  An experiment to get more active seemed in order.

I didn’t want to to join a gym or buy equipment. So I did a little research and found another way.

Minimum Effective Dose (MED) is the smallest quantity of anything that will produce the desired outcome. Anything beyond MED is wasteful. For example, heating water above 100 degrees Celsius is a waste of energy – it’s already boiling.

High Intensity Interval Training  (HIIT) applies MED to the body through short, intense workouts. The Experiment: Using the 12 Minute Athlete smartphone app, workout 12 minutes per day, with the caveat of taking a rest day if I get too sore (spoiler alert – I got too sore) and write about the results.

Hypothesis: I expect to see minor-but-noticeable improvements to body composition, energy, and mood, and that the exercise will bleed over into other health-related actions like healthier food choices and increased general activity.

Day 1, 5:30am. It was not easy to climb out of bed, but it felt easier knowing that I only had 12 minutes of work to meet today’s goal. It was fun. Here is the Day 1 workout: 3 rounds of these 6 exercises for 30 seconds each, with 10 seconds of rest in between equals 12 minutes.

At 7:00 my abs ached. Pretty bad.12min

Day 2, Welcome to Burpees. As a high school basketball player, I was introduced to Bear Crawls – a barbaric activity that played a significant role in my journey to adulthood. Having lived a pretty sedentary life since then, I hadn’t really experienced much pain in a while.  Enter Burpees.

I took Day 3 off.

Day 3, Sabbath. No HIIT today, and it rained outside so I didn’t walk much, either. Everything hurt, including the bottoms of my feet.

Day 4, Workout Buddy. My 13-year-old son joined this afternoon. Keeping up with him was harder than I expected. Also, today’s randomly-generated workout added Pike Jumps, which I think were invented by the Burpee guy.

Days 5 and 6, Change of Plans.  I changed our schedule to an every-other-day workout. On Day 6 we pistoled, reptile-push-upped, and dive-bombed our little hearts out. Then we ate ice cream.

Day 7, Week 1 Reflection. After 4 workouts totaling 48 minutes, I felt as sore this weekend as I have in a long time – a testament to my mediocre physical condition and the potential effectiveness of this strategy.

Day 8, 50 Seconds of Hell. The randomized HIIT workouts had followed a pattern of 30-second workouts with 10-second rest periods. Today the HIIT gods selected 50-second workouts, which were way, way, way, way harder.  Full disclosure for peer reviews of the experiment protocol: When 50-second sessions randomly popped up later in the week, we “randomly” re-rolled until we found 30-second intervals. 

Day 9, Rest Day.  I felt much less sore than last week, which surprised me after yesterday’s workout.  Am I getting accustomed to this already?  Is my body getting stronger?

Day 10, Back at it. Today was summed up in a single quote from my son:  “If my legs were my mouth, I’d be vomiting.”  I can think of no stronger testimonial.

Day 12, Super Basement Bros. My son has joined me for most sessions, which as been really fun.  And we stink up the basement bad. And the basement is my office. Oops.

Situps felt easier today than they did a week ago.  It’s working, it’s working!

Day 14, This is it!  I managed to twist my ankle on the first set of high knees today. I rested through the next interval, and then tried squats. The ankle felt ok, so I pressed on. Strangely, the pain went away halfway through the workout and didn’t come back.

I am superhuman!

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Conclusion. For the first time in years I saw muscle definition in my shoulders, after only a few minutes of total exercise. I think this HIIT thing is legit. Also, the computer voice in workout app is my new Joannie Greggains – a high honor, indeed.

For more info on the topics of MED and HIIT, and more high intensity exercises, see The 12-Minute Athlete by Krista Striker and The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss.

Image credits (order of appearance): Joannie Greggains; Krista Striker; Brett Curtis (via Flickr Creative Commons).