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Entries in Observations (73)


Fitness, Energy, Creativity and a Better Life


BY THE END OF 2011 I was tired. I was dragging and I was in need of rest from a busy, fun yet draining year. During the week between Christmas and the New Year, I pondered ways to increase my energy, knowing another intense year of projects was on the horizon.

I began thinking of my fitness level as a missing piece in becoming a more effective professional, after reading Haruki Murakami's book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. In the book, Murakami describes the positive, critical impact running has had on his creativity, his writing career and his life.

Reading Murkami's words reminded me of early morning bicycle rides I used to take years ago. Rising at 5am to ride country roads with my friend Dave was a great way start to my day and served as a significant source of energy for my creativity and my life at the time.

I've missed those rituals and the energy. It was time to get them back.

Hiring a Trainer

For much of last year I'd been considering hiring a personal trainer to help get a workout habit established for my specific needs — but never acted on the idea. With 2012 arriving and establishing positive habits on my mind, I made the decision to contact the local YMCA and set up a free meeting with a Y-approved personal trainer.

The first meeting went very well. My trainer listened to my past successes (cycling), challenges (busy work and family life with small children) and my goals. He asked more questions, then suggested a simple plan to begin forming a workout habit to suit my life and schedule. It's been working well.

Our second meeting was a chance to refine the details of my plan — adding new stretches, activities and goals to my routine — along with a challenge to keep my momentum going. Next week I'll be challenged again and I can't wait.

Why a Personal Trainer?

It would seem easy enough to just head to the Y and start working out — but I'd always felt unsure of where to start or if I was doing things properly. When working with Y staff, never felt I ought to pester them with all of the questions I had. However, with a trainer I'd hired with my own money, I felt obligated to make the most of our time together by asking all sorts of questions.

My perspective on hiring a trainer changed when I thought of a trainer as someone I might hire in business — a front end developer, an accountant or an attorney. They're experts at what they do, just as I am at design, so it would be foolish not to take full advantage of their skills in advancing my goals.

Finally, having a neutral person to help establish my workout habit, provide accountability and offer guidance in exercise details has been great. In-between our sessions he remotely checks my workout progress, can suggest new activities and I can ask questions, all via email.

Two Weeks In

As I write this, I've reached the 2 week mark of making regular exercise a priority, I'm feeling the best I have in years. I'm feeling more energetic than ever before and have found myself getting caught up on a few projects that had become dormant at the end of 2011.

I've established an earlier bedtime, so I get up early for workouts, before my wife and kids wake up. Oddly enough, this entire morning routine has become a great time to think and ponder, a side benefit I hadn't expected.


Exercising 4 mornings a week has had another positive side effect: watching what I eat. Since I was tracking the time and calories burned in exercise, it made sense to get back into using Lose It! on my iPhone to keep track of the calories and foods I'm eating.

It's fascinating to capture what I'm eating each day, watching the weekly trends and comparing the impact food I eat has on my energy levels. Having a place to easily record food and exercise wherever I am has been a huge benefit to my awareness. I especially love Lose It's barcode scanner for fast food entry.

Long Term

The outlook for the long term is encouraging. Ultimately my goal is to lose weight, gain strength and stamina to power my professional and personal life.

As I get older, I'm realizing any advantage I can gain in improving my life and the length of it is worth the small daily sacrifices. Feeling great in the process is the encouragement to keep on keeping on.

Another important mental approach has been to think of this as building a positive habit first, understanding that other benefits (feeling better, looking better) would naturally come as a by-product. I know that when I own a positive habit I will stick to it long term.

I'm totally owning this.


3six5: December 28, 2011

Work less jpg scaled500

The house was quiet and dark as I climbed out of bed.

My favorite week is the week in-between holidays. My wife and kids lay sleeping while I headed to the den to spend time alone before the day began.

I've been enjoying this quiet week between Christmas and the New Year, especially after a hectic year of work and activity. Each year I use this week to review the past twelve months and think about what can be improved on in the next twelve.

Just yesterday, I asked my nine year old son Nathan what I could do to be a better father next year. What he said caught me by surprise and has challenged me these last 24 hours:

"Work less, dad."

But, but, wait. How did you.. hmmm.

He was right. Despite being even more selective about choosing new projects this past year, I was guilty of accepting more work than I ought to have. Of course, each project was a great opportunity, but the sum of those extra projects over a year's time drained me.

That's the tricky thing about work you love to do — the work doesn't seem like work at all — until you're in too deep. On top of love for the work is the draw of an opportunity too good to pass up, which makes it difficult to say no.

Mix love for your work and opportunity together and you have a recipe for potential overload and burnout — a place I don't want to visit.

Still, I'm encouraged. Even with all the projects I've done this year, my workload is much lower than the year before. I was successful at choosing fewer, more interesting and more challenging projects in 2011.

My challenge for the year ahead is to keep on the track of working less. To become even more selective about project quality and quantity, regardless of how enticing 'more' may be.

As evening draws to a close, I'm feeling clearer about my path forward, realizing I'm blessed with a loving family and a son who has no fear or telling his dad to work less.

I was honored to be part of the 3six5 project, and being chosen to represent December 28, 2011 with the entry above. Read it on the 3six5 website along with entries from all of 2011. Thanks Len.


Connecting the Dots

THIS WEEKEND, Steve Jobs and his Stanford Commencement Speech from 2005 reminded me how important it is to realize we often only connect the dots of our lives looking back. Like Steve, I can see now how the more difficult moments have shaped me and my future for the better.

Thanks Steve for your inspiring leadership and example for all of us.


The Power of Capturing Memories

I VISTED my old neighborhood on Tuesday.

Feeling the power of childhood memories flooding back has helped clarify why I'm currently so fascinated with capturing life experiences as sketchnotes.

The Fish Keg

The Fish Keg is an iconic place in my memory, a keystone of memories from my childhood days in the Rogers Park neighborhood on Chicago's North Side.

As I entered my old neighborhood, each city block, each bit of sidewalk, every old sign brought childhood memories sharply in focus. It was enlightening to see inanimate objects and places bring to mind many long-forgotten memories with such clarity.

This is why I sketchnote experiences and encourage others to do it too.

Feelings and thoughts fleeting past during an experience or an event can be captured visually, awaiting future moments to expand themselves and reawaken memories for my benefit or the benefit of others.

Consider my sketchnotes from a dinner at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California:

Chez Panisse Dinner Sketchnote

Time was invested in capturing my experience visually, but now I can look back and recall in vivid detail how the spaghetti tasted, what the environment felt like and the fun I had experiencing a dinner with my friends Kate and Kris.

In this image, those and other memories spring to life, offering a clearer recollection of that moment in time. To a degree, my experiences can communicate to complete strangers who may be curious about the Chez Panisse experience.

If there's anything that would encourage you to try sketchnoting an event or an experience, let this be the reason. Invest time in capturing what you're experiencing as multidimensional map of your thoughts and feelings so you can recall them with clarity and share those memories with others.


Living a Better Life Story: Storyline Conference

Million Miles

IF YOUR LIFE WERE A STORY, how would it read?

In his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, author Don Miller asks that question of his own life. He found the state of his life pretty mundane.

He became fascinated with story and its structure, learning the elements of story in order to examine his own life and seek ways to change the story he was living into a better one.

For Don, that meant hiking to Machu Picchu, seeking and finding his long-lost father, riding his bike across America to raise funds for wells in Africa and founding a mentoring program for fatherless boys. Quite the change in story.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years was a great book. It challenged me to think more deeply about the life I'm living, how I'm leading my family and what kind of impact I'm having on others. I'm thinking about my life in ways I hadn't before.

In some areas of my life, I love like how my story has unfolded. In other areas, I'm not as happy about the story I'm living. There's plenty of room for improvement.

Most of all, I love the idea that God is writing a story with my life and invites me to be part of that writing. The opportunity to live a more interesting life and to encourage others to live better stories with their own lives is fascinating and exciting.

The Storyline Conference

Saturday, my wife and I signed up for Don Miller's Storyline Conference in Portland, Oregon to learn ways we can write a better life story, together.

I learned about the Storyline Conference and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years through Don Miller's blog. I enjoy his writing, so when I saw his post about the conference, I was intrigued with doing something more with my own story.

The Storyline Conference is a two day workshop in Portland, Oregon. Attendees hear stories from Don Miller, use workbooks to find out where their own story is headed, and through the process, write a better story of their lives. Music and other surprise experiences during the 2 days should create a unique experience.

Here's the promo video:

Looks like a great experience in a great city!

This spring I missed SXSW due to illness, which was a big bummer. Choosing to experience Storyline, the city of Portland and experience it with my wife is a wonderful reward after missing SXSW. We're both very excited.

I'm also planning to sketchnote the Storyline Conference. If Don is OK with it, I'll post my sketchnotes on Flickr and here on my blog. I'm excited to learn and then share story concepts with others curious about writing a better story with their own lives.