Personal development

HandshakeCurrently I’m re-reading the Stephen Covey classic The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (I’ll post a full review in a few days or so). One of the many incredible ideas in the book is the notion of a 30 day trial for proactivity.

I first came across the concept of a 30 day trial – at least it first sank in – after reading Steve Pavlina‘s excellent article 30 days to success. Having subsequently used the idea with great success during my initial foray into the world of biphasic sleeping, I know just how powerful it can be.

For 30 days, Covey urges us to :

Make small commitments and keep them. Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic. Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

That sounds like a very worthwhile trial indeed – and mine began today. Feel free to let me know if I step out of line.


Malcolm GladwellVia Strongest Man in the Gym : an excellent talk by author Malcolm Gladwell at the 2004 TED conference. Life, happiness and spaghetti sauce.

Chris HowardA few weeks ago I received a gift from my brother – a collection of CDs from ‘the Richard Branson of personal and professional development‘, Christopher Howard. Whilst I was excited about the idea – having heard several great things about Chris Howard from a number of sources – I was swamped in work at the time and put these on my ‘to do’ list for a while.

Last week I had a chance to begin the course (there are 7 CDs, and 1 per day seemed reasonable), and I quickly wondered why I had put them off at all. Quite simply, they’re brilliant. Having completed the course yesterday, I’m amazed at the insights that can be gained from having someone ask you the right questions.

And ‘asking the right questions’ is very much at the heart of it. Based on the idea that everyone is capable of achieving more than they currently are – in any area of their life – the course really encourages you to think carefully about the way you go about things. I feel as though I have been driving along with the handbrake on, and someone’s finally pointed this out to me. It’s a fantastic feeling.

A final thought : one of the things that clearly distinguishes this from other material I’ve come across (whether as a book, article or audio such as this) is that I go back to the earlier CDs and listen to them again; review my notes from the days of the course. If anything, I’m now looking forward to his September seminar with even greater anticipation.

If it’s anything like the CDs, it’ll be superb.

BooksI was 13 when I first tried to read Lord of the Rings. After wading through an incredibly dense 20 pages or so, I put it back on the shelf and selected something else.

About 5 or 6 years later I tried again. This time it seemed far more reasonable, and I wondered why I’d struggled with it the first time. Pretty soon I realised that the book hadn’t changed; I had.

Since then I’ve been completely happy with the idea of re-reading books. Whilst I still purchase enough new ones to stock a small library each month; I also seem to be one of those rare people who actually reads their books more than once. Several times, in some cases.

If you, like me, have books in every room of the house (Cicero would be proud); do you re-read them?

At signOver the past week or so I’ve managed to reduce the time I spend looking at email each day from around 2 hours to 30 minutes. It should come down even further than that, but I’m happy with the progress.

One of the changes that I’ve implemented has been an idea that’s worked well in other areas – only touching each email once (during the processing stage).

Only touch it once

The idea here is simple : each time you open an email, decide what to do with it and act upon that immediately. This doesn’t entail replying to each message on the spot; simply filing it, marking it or deleting it as appropriate.

As Gmail is my email tool of choice, I use the filters to label most messages as they come in. If an email is worth keeping, but doesn’t hold any urgency, I can send it to the archives quickly; knowing that it’s already labelled and easy to find.

If an item is deemed ripe for deletion, it is deleted immediately. The inbox is not the place for sentimentality.

Messages that are awaiting a response are labelled appropriately and left in the inbox. As I simply from from the top message to the bottom, there is no chance of accidentally re-opening one of these messages.

Overall this process works extremely well. Next target – 10 minutes per day.

Tim FerrissTim Ferriss has some truly inspirational ideas. His book – the 4 hour work week – is definitely high on my current shopping list (otherwise known as ‘things to buy when I get paid’).

For a taste of his approach to things (and as the title suggests, it’s far from typical), have a listen to this podcast – one of his presentations at the last SXSW Festival. Enjoy.

sleep when you’re deadI started biphasic sleeping (essentially just getting two periods of sleep per day) in September last year, and noted a number of improvements following a rigorous 30-day trial. Thankfully, all of those improvements (including several health benefits) are still there; and show no signs of abating any time soon.

Both before and after the trial, I’ve attempted to give up caffeine. On both occasions this lasted for a few weeks, and then old habits began to creep back in. With this in mind, I’ve simply greatly reduced my consumption. That seems to be working well.

A few years ago – and up until last year – I was having approximately 8-10 cups of coffee per day. This was supplemented with the occasional sip of cola, and an even more occasional cup of black tea.

My current intake is approximately 4-5 cups per week, no carbonated beverages at all, and copious amounts of green tea. It’s the cold part of the year here after all.

How does this affect the biphasic sleeping? Firstly, a quick look at my usual routine :

  • 4.5 hours starting at approximately 2am
  • 80 minutes starting at approximately 7:30pm

or close enough to 6 hours per day. There are some people who favour a 3 hour/90 minute split; but the above times work well for me.

The impact of caffeine is interesting. On most days (no coffee, green tea only) I don’t consume enough caffeine to cause a problem; and the usual routine works just fine. I’m asleep within minutes, enjoy colourful dreams, and wake refreshed.

On the other days (approx. 2 cups of coffee, as well as 5-6 cups of green tea), I sleep monophasically. Trial and error has me adding 1 x sleep cycle (80 minutes in my case, but it varies from person to person) to the usual 6 hour daily total, for a 7.5 hour slumber. I realise I’m rounding up here, but I do actually take the full 7.5 hours.

The effects of not doing this – and attempting to stick to the usual biphasic routine – are :

  • it takes longer to get to sleep for the 7:30 nap, even if I consume the coffee at 8 or 9am
  • once I do get to sleep in the 7:30 nap, I roll around a lot, sweat and generally have a less refreshing sleep (very similar to having a fever)
  • I generally wake up after 20 minutes or so, and need another nap later in the evening

So it really isn’t worth doing. The 7.5 hour sleep is refreshing, and there is no sleep debt incurred as a result. If I can successfully combine the biphasic sleeping with a regular (although moderate) caffeine intake, I’ll be a happy, happy man.

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