Pedaling at work

Those who know me well, know I’m a big fan of “lifehacking,” which I guess can best be described as utilizing tips, tricks, technology, ideas in different ways to live more effective and efficiently.  Sometimes this means using software like TDP to improve your relationship with your wife or in this case it means using an “elliptical” (when you click the link you’ll see why I used quotes around elliptical) machine under your desk.

The fact of the matter is I sit a lot, especially during the week.  When you work in front of a computer, as most of us do, you spend the vast majority of your time in a chair, staring at a screen (as they say, “Sitting is the Smoking of our Generation.“).  I’ve been obsessed with the Treadputer ever since I first saw it on Brad Feld’s blog over 6 years ago, and told myself I would build one of those, one day when I had more space to work with.  Unfortunately, NYC and space don’t really belong in the same sentence. I’ve also been exploring standing desks as an option to be healthier at work, but having experimented with a few versions, I was never really happy with the experience.  I wanted an option that would be healthier than just sitting, but also was not too disruptive to my workflow, and didn’t take up a ton of space.  Solution?  The Staminia Elliptical:


Thanks to Jay, I’ve been using this guy to pedal at my desk for almost a month now and I LOVE it.  I had to swap out my desk chair to fit my knees perfectly under the desk, but other than that I didn’t really have to change anything about my setup.  I can easily pedal while typing and while browsing.  I even pedal while on calls or google hangouts, usually without people noticing.  It’s pretty quiet, although I don’t have a mat for it so it does tend to scoot and occasionally bump into my trash bin making a bit of noise.

I know this is not a full workout or a replacement for one and I also know it doesn’t fully negate the experience of sitting for hours and hours on end,  but it I really love being able to pedal throughout the day for many reasons including:

  • Increased energy.  Seriously.  I no longer drink coffee after 11am, and I’ve found that when I start to feel a little drowsy come 3pm, kicking into an hour of pedaling really perks me up.  
  • Better focus.  I’m not sure why exactly, but I definitely have better focus while pedaling, almost as if moving my legs is just enough distraction to occupy the “monkey mind,” who wants to open another tab.
  • A little sweat.  Yes, even though it doesn’t really feel like a workout, I can definitely get in pedaling grooves where I can start to feel a bit of sweat on my brow.  I like that.
  • Increased heart rate.  I’ve been pedaling for about an hour today while at my desk, and I just measured my pulse at 90 bpm.
  • I just feel better.  At the end of a long day I feel less burnt, and healthier. I  know this is vague, and hard to back up in anyway, but I really do feel better.  That’s worth it to me.
  • I’m burning calories -The digital display says I’m burning 90-100 calories per hour of pedaling.  I’m not sure I really believe that, but I know I’m definitely burning something.

A few things you should know if you are considering one of these:

Pick one up, and enjoy burning a few more calories while being more focused at work….and yes, I pedaled while I wrote this post:

photo (2)


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To my mother:

It’s been 7 years.  It’s hard to believe that it has been that long, and that it has only been that long all at the same time.   Sometimes I remember things as clearly as if they were yesterday, and sometimes I have trouble remembering even the simplest things at all.  But today, my now annual day of reflection, I feel grateful. Grateful for gifts you have given me.  It’s impossible to list them all, but I felt compelled to list a few:

I’m grateful you taught me to appreciate the moments.  I’ll never forget our walks in the woods, starting with me as a little kid up to a few weeks before you died, and even our last walk about a week before you died.  There wasn’t ever a walk where you didn’t stop to appreciate something, the turtles in the water, smells of fall, the sounds of singing birds, the sun on your face.  I’ve never met someone who appreciated the ocean and the beach like you.  Or someone who could be overwhelmed by the beauty of a starry sky as you were.   I’ll never forget in dealing with a tough break up you telling me, “Notice the depth of your feelings, the complexity of how you feel right now.  I know it’s hard, but that pain has beauty in it.  Notice it.”  Tough for a 17-year-old to hear, easy for me to appreciate now.

I’m grateful you showed me growth.   You never stopped working on a better you, and yes you had your many struggles with how you viewed the current you, but you showed me that we can grow our minds, our bodies, and our hearts.  You would probably struggle to agree, but you really grew so much in the last 10 years of your life.  The things you learned, and shared with me on that journey are so much a part of who I am today, including my own work and growth process.

I’m grateful you showed me what unconditional love feels like.  It feels like this tremendous warmth and support, from deep within, that is always with you.  It means you can make mistakes, you can argue, you can get mad, you can screw up, but you’ll still be loved just the same as you always were.  It means you give because you love, not because you want.

I’m grateful you showed me how to have a loving relationship.  I’ve written about this before (here and here), but without your (and Tom’s) work, I would not have the relationship I have with Julie today.  I reap the benefits of this lesson daily.

I’m grateful you showed me childlike curiosity is not just for kids.  You were endlessly curious.  I hated playing Jeopardy with you because you knew everything about everything.  I still have many of your books covering everything from Buddhism to gardening to Astrology.  There were few things (except technology really) you weren’t interested in learning more about, and I’ve never met someone who could get as excited about exploring a new topic quite like you.

I’m grateful for our time together.  It was shorter than I know we both would have ever expected or wanted, but it was not short on lessons, depth, and love.  Today, as any other day, I’m grateful for you.

How Evernote is making me a better gift giver

Evernote for iOS icon
Evernote for iOS icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re coming down to the final crunch of Holiday shopping and if you are like me, and you prefer, if possible, to do all of your shopping online then you are just about out of time (unless you also are Prime subscriber and can find that special gift on Amazon).  I’m usually a bit stressed this time of year (as I know a lot of people are) because I try very hard to get someone a gift that shows I know them and care about them well enough to get something they are really excited about.   But I often really struggle with this and ultimately run out of time, often I defaulting to standard gifts.

But this year, I was prepared.  I am using evernote to make me better giver. I created a notebook called “gifts” and whenever I hear someone (my wife, my sister, a friend, etc) say something like “Oh man, I’d really like to go to that restaurant,” or “I’d really love some shoes like that,” I put a note my Gifts notebook under their name.  I have been doing this for my wife over the past 3 months and it made my Christmas shopping for her this year a breeze.   Maybe she will assume I’m a mind reader, but at the very least she’ll love her gifts.

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A great relationship, even better

Sunday (Photo credit: ex.libris)

As I’ve written before, I’m a big believer in the notion that great relationships require work.  Good relationships typically don’t go bad overnight, but instead it’s usually a long process of neglect.  I often wonder why you hear (or read) very little out there about putting work into relationships, especially with your significant other.  Shouldn’t we want to put in the work to make the most important (or one of) relationship in our life even better?

I was fortunate to have a front row view to one of the more caring, loving, and thoughtful relationships between my mother and Tom.  They put a tremendous amount of time and work into their connection and it clearly showed.  One bit of work they regularly put in was something they called the “Temperature Report.”  The premise is simple, you set aside a bit of time to connect as couple (just as you may do with your team at work) on several discussion points.  I think at the heart of what makes the temp report work is it prevents simple misunderstandings or even disagreements from becoming very big ones, or as my mother used to say it prevents a “mole hill being turned into a mountain.”  I’ve seen in some places they recommend you do this everyday, and while there’s no doubt that’s achievable, I think you can actually be effective doing it on a weekly basis.  Here’s the basic structure of a temp report:

  • Appreciations
  • Wishes, Hopes, and Dreams
  • New Information
  • Puzzles
  • Complaints with a request for change

(via: Smarter Marriages)

I loaded weekly temp report up into my, and on Sunday evening Julie and I sit down with a glass of wine and go through this. It’s pretty quick, and we’ve certainly skipped a few (easy tracking with TDP) and wrestled with a few more, but the results are very clear.  Even with disagreements or misunderstandings the process of discussion and practice brings us so much closer.  I can sense with each week, each practice, we’re strengthening our connection.

I love the idea that a simple practice, a tool to properly track our progress and the application of the content could and will yield lifelong benefits.  Powerful.

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SEASIDE HEIGHTS, NJ - OCTOBER 31: Waves break ...
SEASIDE HEIGHTS, NJ – OCTOBER 31: Waves break in front of a destroyed roller coaster wrecked by Superstorm Sandy on October 31, 2012 in Seaside Heights, New Jersey. At least 50 people were reportedly killed in the U.S. by Sandy with New Jersey suffering massive damage and power outages. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

Quite a week in NYC.  First let me just say this:  My wife and I were barely impacted.  The truth is we lost power for 5 days, but only lost water for a day or so, and suffered no damage to our personal property nor were we personally harmed.  Really our impact was minimal, other than no cell service, limited internet, and lots of darkness for a week.  But I’ll be honest: I feel different this week.

It’s definitely clichéd but I feel grateful for the extended, distraction free time I was able to spend with her.  It was great to just be with her without the tv, or our iPhones standing between us.  Why does it take extraordinary circumstances to be reminded of this?

But I feel heavy heading into the work week.  I’m not sure what it is exactly, but it feels like I want to do more to help people.  Perhaps it is some guilt associated with the minimal impact while seeing the pain of others, but I suddenly feel like the “important” things I was working on no longer feel that important.  I guess being forced to step away from work, and to see so many have their lives drastically flipped upside down has led me back to my old, comfortable, favorite questions: “What am I really trying to do with my life? Am I looking to just be here, or do I want to help make the world a better place?”

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Gratitude starts the day

gratitude. =)
gratitude. =) (Photo credit: camerakarrie)

Those who have read my blog probably know me, and therefore are probably well aware of my endless quest for the perfect personal system and routines.  I’ve tried lots of things in this quest, and have had many stops and starts along the way but there are a few things I feel confident now should absolutely be part of the morning routine, at least for me. So here is what has been working for me (an obvious question here is how do I know they work?  The unsatisfying answer is that I just feel better):

  • No email (or twitter or facebook) checking until these other things have been completed.  This is my time and I need to protect it.
  • Exercise.  No better way to take care of my body than to exercise first thing.  This has taken me years to push exercise to the morning on a consistent basis (I have mostly exercised in the evening), but I’m getting close now.
  • Writing.  I take time to write either in a journal or on this blog at least for a few minutes in the morning.  Admittedly a lot of times it is forced, and fluffy, but sometimes it is strong and meaningful.
  • Prioritize for the day.  My personal productivity in work skyrocketed when I put this before ever opening my email.  In fact an even more difficult but productive move is to check off a few items on the list before you even open email.  This is really hard.  I can feel the urge to check my email growing each minute I don’t check it in the morning…It’s a powerful addiction.

And finally: Gratitude.  My routine actually is sort of based on the Tony Robbins “Hour of Power,” which has gratitude, breathing, and exercise at its core.  So in the morning when I walk my dog, before exercising, I’ll take 5-15 minutes to just run through all the things I have to be grateful for, from relationships, to work opportunities, to experiences, to family members, etc.  This like all the others was something I have tried off and on in the past, but I never stopped it due to lack of impact. It was more due to laziness (which sneakily uses the excuse “I just don’t have the time.”).  It is an amazing exercise.  Sometimes you can feel it in that moment, sometimes it is just a general feeling of well-being that spreads throughout the day, but you will feel it.

It’s so easy to start the day thinking about what you are afraid of, what you wish you didn’t have to do that day, what you wish you could avoid.  Maybe it’s just me, but those thoughts tend to push themselves to the front of my thoughts, especially in the quiet of the morning.  Opening up and reminding myself all that I have to be grateful for today gives me tremendous power in facing those thoughts and things.  It doesn’t make the scary things go away, but you’ll most definitely find they are not as scary as they once seemed.  Gratitude is an amazing way to start the day.

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What are you avoiding?

Exercising (Photo credit: NOAA's National Ocean Service)

As part of my “chains” work, and on the advice of Jerry, I’ve added a new, 2 minute exercise to my daily routine.  I ask myself: “What are you avoiding”  I take some time to write a response in evernote, and then I ask: “Why are you avoiding it?”  I’m only a few days in but I’ve found this to be very powerful for me.

I think even when we’re not thinking about the things we’re avoiding, they are always at the surface of our minds.  I noticed that unlike the ideas exercise, the answer to this question comes almost immediately.  I definitely know what I’m avoiding, and it’s absolutely burning calories, even if I’m not always thinking about it.  The harder part has been asking and answering the why.  Sometimes, often, the why is a “weakness,” an admission of a mistake, a fear of failure, a fear of exposure (I’ve found for me a common reason for avoiding something is a fear of being exposed as a fraud…”wait a minute, you aren’t really an entrepreneur!”).  We often know the answer to the why too, but it can be painful.
Ultimately I don’t think the purpose of this exercise is to pump myself up to face whatever I’m avoiding. I don’t think that’s a sustainable solution.  Instead feels like I’m strengthening my noticing skills, and what I’ve found even more is that it is like the 7 year old me shining a flashlight under my bed.  There is no monster.  There is no great horrible, life threatening reason to avoid whatever I’m avoiding.  It makes the things I’ve avoiding now easier to face, and I hope this practice makes avoiding even less common in the future.
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Amazon is eating retail

I stumbled across this article in my Flipboard viewing this morning titled “Are we

Image representing Amazon as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

Witnessing the Death of the Big Box Store?” on Time business.  The article was inspired by a 25% drop in net income for Best Buy in its most recent quarter, perhaps a sign that “software is eating” their world.  More specifically, Amazon:

So what’s behind a store like Best Buy’s headlong decline? One word: Amazon. Specialty big-box stores like Best Buy have made a killing the past 20 years by offering a huge selection of products at low prices. But there is no way the firm can compete with an Internet retailer like Amazon on those measures. Even worse for Best Buy is the phenomenon of “showrooming,” whereby shoppers check out an item in a store and then buy it through an online competitor for a lower price. This is particularly frustrating for brick-and-mortar stores because it takes their one tangible advantage to online retailers — the in-store experience — and turns it into a way for their competitors to steal market share.

Read more:

I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, really ever since I upgraded to Amazon Prime (a little over a year ago).  There’s just something magical about the Amazon Prime experience, and it’s even more necessary amazing while living in NYC.  Before I upgraded to prime I was definitely an occasional but not heavy Amazon buyer, but since the upgrade my whole shopping patterns have changed.  Toilet paper?  Amazon.  Razors? Amazon.  TV? Amazon. Coffee? Snacks? Green tea? Batteries? Yep, yep, yep. I can have it shipped to my door for free sometimes as quickly as a day (Even though Prime’s promise is 2 days free, one day for $3.99).  I’ve even done my fair share of “showrooming,” although not to scoop the lowest price but because my local option had run out of stock.  What was I buying?  Plant fertilizer.  I went to my local hardware store and they had just run out, so I pulled out my phone, and within a minute it was on the way, shipped for free, cheaper than the hardware store anyway.  What happens as more and more people live in the “Prime world?”

There are still a lot of things I shop for “locally,” with food being the most obvious and frequent.  And I think there are many things that simply can’t be “primed,” (appliances, some clothing, etc), but clearly there are a lot of things that can and will be.  So what happens to Best Buy (who I think is in serious danger in current model)?  What happens to Ace Hardware?  I would bet on those businesses being severely limited in 10 years, a result of being “primed.”  What happens to the millions of square footage that is no longer needed when Amazon starts to really eat these businesses?  Could they ever be returned to farmland?  Or their natural habit?  I was at the farmers market last weekend.  One of those farms had a sign up that read “Once farmland is developed, it never goes back.  Have you ever seen a mall turned into a farm?”  No, I haven’t, but maybe I will.

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Don’t break the chain

Chain Link
Chain Link (Photo credit: small world)

Scrolling through my instapaper feed this past weekend I came across this post way back on April 25th titled “366 or How I tricked myself into being awesome.”  It’s an awesome post and well worth a read, but I’ll give you the meat here:

How did I do it?

Blogged every, single day. For one full year. 366 days. Every day. No matter what.

This, which I’m sure is not an accident, reminds me of what I’ve heard about off and on the last few years as “Seinfeld’s productivity secret.”  When a young comic asked Seinfeld if he had any tips, he provided some great advice:

He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day. But his advice was better than that. He had a gem of a leverage technique he used on himself and you can use it to motivate yourself—even when you don’t feel like it.

He revealed a unique calendar system he uses to pressure himself to write. Here’s how it works.

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker.

He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day. “After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”

“Don’t break the chain,” he said again for emphasis.

It’s funny because I also recently read an article about high achievers, “If you’re busy, you are doing something wrong,” which emphasizes the importance and power of deliberate practice.  Deliberate practice is defined as the work that truly stretches your ability, and this is exactly what Seinfeld is describing here.  He’s devised a system that motivates him to stretch his ability every single day, no matter what.  Deliberate practice.

So the questions is: What should and could you do everyday to stretch your ability?  I’ve been struggling with this, trying and exploring a few things.  Sometimes I wonder if writing is pretty much always involved here, unless you are working on something physical (athlete) or something very specific (chess player, pianist). I think there’s something about writing, especially public reading (even if very few people read it like on my blog) that really does crystallize and clarify your thoughts.

For me I have several things I’m trying on, and I’m using to track my chains.  So far, about 6 days in, I’m holding up and enjoying it.  More about what my chains are and why in another post.

What could you do everyday trick yourself to being more awesome?  What could you do everyday to make you a little better at what you want to do?


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What’s your invisible script?

Talking Heads (series)
Talking Heads (series) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning while walking my dog I had a random thought: “hey, I should run with  Izzy (my dog) regularly.”  And almost immediately I heard another voice in my head say “you can’t do that.”  I realized that this voice is actually pretty common, and loves to immediately shoot down ideas, plans, hopes that I’m perhaps a little unsure of.  (It is my own version of the “shotgun,” a nickname for someone who used to meet up with Jason, etc awhile back.  No matter what we said, and no matter how much we bubbled with optimism about something we were discussing he would immediately shoot it down.)  This voice is active, and I wonder how many times throughout the day it holds me back.

Through this little moment of reflection, I was reminded of Ramit Sethi‘s excellent post on “The invisible scripts that guide our lives.”  As he says in the post, these scripts can be so entrenched in us that we don’t even notice the impact they have.  “Would a fish know he’s swimming in water?”  How many times does my “shotgun” voice speak up and I don’t even notice that I listen to it?

The good news is that we can respond to and even change those invisible scripts that may be impacting our lives.  The better news is that the first and most important step in this process is noticing.  The bad news is, noticing can be very hard.  Do you see the scripts that impact your life?

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