The value of slowing down

Bear with me here. It's going to start off looking like an exercise post at the beginning. It takes a little while, but I wind up making what I think is a valid real-life point eventually.

I slowed down my workouts this week.

My typical workout looks something like this. Set my Nike+ iPod to 5K. Run as fast as I can manage over the distance. Finish in about 14 minutes. Feel like crap. Sit for a minute (well, three, really) and have some water and try to catch my breath. Set the chest press on 135, the lat pull-down on 140, the seated row at 125 and the shoulder press at 90. Do 3x5 quickly on each (that's three sets of five repetitions). Walk the track a couple of times. Climb up the stairs and sit long enough to let my heart rate down and to let the flow of testosterone normalize.

The next morning, I'm fine. Possibly a little stronger, but I don't hurt.

Reference, for those of you who don't know me personally. I'm somewhat fit (14 minute 5K on an indoor track is competitive, even). I have about 15 pounds of fat to lose (I'm 20& body fat at 160 pounds – 15 pounds of fat down would get me to about 14% body fat, which on a guy maybe let's you start to see the top two portions of the ab muscle). (Also, I work in a gym, so I've become a bit of a fitness geek, I know all about Dbol pills and that the rectus abdominus is a single muscle; a 6- or 8-pack is really just definition of one muscle.)

My workout today was excruciating. I ran something like 3.8 miles in 28 minutes. A 5K, which I do in half that time, is about 3.1 miles. I slowed my pace WAY down and went for time. I did the same four machines, but I did 3x8. Very slowly. Like 6 seconds out, 6 seconds back. My last set on the chest press I was having a hard time cranking out 50 pounds (you'll remember I do 135 normally). 70 on the lat pull-downs, 60 on the rows and 35 on the shoulder press.

I'm currently having a hard time lifting a glass of iced coffee.

This makes me a bit curious about the value of slowing down. Now, don't get me wrong. Pain and soreness are not always the measure of a good workout. But I can tell that this is muscle confusion, not injury.

One thing going slowly does do is make us pay attention to detail. It also requires us to be more efficient. Neither of those is a bad thing.

In fact, there's a whole industry of innovation going on for making us more efficient. Go ahead. Turn on your smart phone. Go to whatever your app store is – it doesn't matter if it's a BlackBerry, iPhone or Android device. I'll bet there's a whole category of apps called "productivity."

These are things like to-do lists. Task monitors. Things that disconnect you from the Internet or social media so you can do some actual work. Apps that make multiple social media accounts easy to use together. Things that help you do stuff faster, so that even if you're doing those things more slowly, they're getting done in the same amount of time.

Want another way to do things a little more slowly?

Take a look at your to-do list. Rate stuff on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being very important and 5 being not at all important. Cross off everything with a 5. Move everything with a 4 to the bottom so that you can get to them when you get to them. Go do all your number ones right now.


What’s YOUR secret?

In order for any of this to make sense, you need to click on that photo of Mackenzie above and spend eight minutes watching her Facebook video. I am so not going to give you a spoiler here.

I'm secretly a writer. You wouldn't know it from reading this blog, because the posts aren't regular.

I'm also secretly a musician. You wouldn't know it, because I pick up my guitar once a week and sit down at the piano about the same.

I'm also secretly an athlete. You wouldn't know it, because I spend a couple of evenings a week playing softball and the rest of the week saying, "Meh, I'll get back to the gym next week. Beer me."

I don't have any big real-life secrets that would fundamentally change your perception of who I am. I'm not disappointed in that. It makes my life easier. Mackenzie, as you now know (because you watched the video, right?), doesn't have any of those any more.

If Mackenzie can be that brave, I can certainly promise myself (and you, but myself more importantly) two blog posts a week, two workouts a week, and three days of playing music a week, even if it's only for five minutes at a time, right?

OK, done.

Now it's your turn. What have you been hiding? Why?

Work/life balance: How I’m achieving it

One of the things I've struggled with most throughout my adult life is work/life balance. Typically I either work too hard or live too hard.

Right now, I hold two management positions and one entry level position at a gym. I co-chair a civic group, and I sit on the steering committee of another. I try to spend as much quality time as possible with JB and Rufus, the black lab we rescued in January.

I also try to be a good son, brother and friend – not to mention a sports fan, writer and avid reader.

And then there's my health to consider.

How the hell do I keep it together?

Well, some things aren't where I'd like them to be, and some things are. I set a weight loss goal at the beginning of the year, and it's gone to hell. I'm evolving it to a body composition goal – not a very aggressive one (I'd like to be down in the 15% body fat range; I'm currently at 22%), but one that makes me healthier feeling and healthier looking (the latter of which wouldn't be so important if I didn't work in a gym, but I do).

Saying no. I'm currently a community manager, member services and day care manager at the gym, and next week I start coaching a new group fitness program. I'm doing my multiple organizations. When someone asks if I want to create a new website or something along those lines, I say no. Typically, my phrase is, "I'm not currently taking on new projects."

Productivity software. I use Microsoft Office on my phone, Google Documents, Google Calendar, Dropbox, Facebook, Hootsuite. I'm using a smart phone and a netbook and an iPad. I share everything in the cloud, and people share with me. I have whatever I need wherever I am.

Doing stuff for me. I get up early. The first thing I do is pour a cup of coffee and take the dog for a walk. I get my coffee, some movement, some fresh air, and I get the great feeling that comes with having a creature look at me and be like, "OMG it's Josh! It's Josh! It's Josh!" as I'm dragging myself around.

After that, I sit down and write on the dog blog for 10-15 minutes. It's enough to get the creative juices flowing, to make sure that I'm writing daily, and to make sure I'm not starting my day out with work. I also make sure there's a walk after dinner. More fresh air, more movement. It's time for me (even if it's also time for JB and the pup).

Limiting communication. Even with my staff, I have communication rules. Email me whenever you want. I will respond when I can. Only call me if it's an emergency; only text between the time I get to the club and 8pm, and even then, don't expect a response right away. Also, while I'm working, the best way to reach me is to call the gym. I don't sleep with the phone in my bedroom. If I go to bed early, I can be reached when I wake up. Sorry.

And that's it. Yes, I still have some work to do to get the balance where I'd like it. But I'm doing so much better now than I was in December.

Lessons from Rufus and Ellis: The World Ain’t Slowin’ Down

I was tired this morning. When you wake up, bury your head under the covers and just lay there for another couple of hours tired.

But Rufus was having none of it. With JB in the shower, he sensed I was awake, and he walked over to my side of the bed, nudged my hand, did a couple of circles, wagged his tail, brought me a bone, then a stuffed chimp, and it was pretty evident that what he was saying was, "Hey, Josh, it's daylight. You're a morning person. You love the world. Get up and see what Saturday has to offer."

And so it's 9am, and we've walked, and we've breakfasted, and we're going to go do some cleaning up and then have a day. You know, 'cause we're riding on a big blue world.

Learning about moderation from fire

One of the things I've been doing to relax this winter is putting a fire in the fireplace. I can sit with a book, or with the TV on, or I can just sit and watch the thing burn with a glass of wine in my hand. For hours, occasionally getting up to throw on a log.

I've spent the past year and a half of my life in the fitness industry. It's a world full of people who don't understand what moderation is, or how to achieve it. And those who do, are extreme in their moderation.

Mostly, people are really focused on working out, or on nutrition, or on both. They're looking for 4% body fat to see if they can do it. They'll spend one eight-week period trying to lose 15 pounds to see if they can do it, and the next eight weeks trying to gain 15 pounds, just to see if they can do it.

Then there are the people who talk about their goals endlessly and do very little toward achieving them. They're all motivation and no action. To an extreme.

Then there are the people who do find a fitness/fun balance – these are people who make sure they enjoy themselves from a food and drink standpoint, then do exactly enough exercise to maintain their weight. To an extreme.

I've noticed that, as I've become more and more part of the fitness world, I'm headed that way, too. I know what's in everything I eat. I know exactly what each protein:carb:fat balance will do to my weight the next morning. I know exactly what I'm going to feel like tomorrow based on what I consume. And it's not just knowledge; I think about it. A lot.

I've moved away from moderation.

So, back to that fire.

To keep a fire going is work. You have to make the time to add logs here and there, and move partly burned logs around, and create some air now and again.

You can't just pile more wood on and expect it to burn longer, because the fire will just spread and consume all that new wood immediately. It's greedy. It's a bit on the extreme side.

What we learn from fire is that, in order to keep it alive, we have to plan, we have to observe, and we have to be ready to deal with some things we weren't expecting – like airflow, or some wetness inside what we thought was a dry log.

That's how you keep a fire under control and burning for a while, prolonging enjoyment. Moderation and some attention.

That's how we get the most out of our lives, even while we focus on our health, our fitness, our nutrition, our enjoyment of day-to-day life.

Anything that you might do to the extreme? Tuck it down a notch. You'll enjoy it more, and over a longer period of time.

[photo credit]

Be amazing at it while it’s yours

I get the feeling there are a lot more lazy people in the world than mediocre people. At least, I hope so. I'd like to think that most people, in their private lives, are remarkable.

Why are so many people, then, unremarkable in their public lives?

We interact with a lot of people most days, either at businesses we patronize or at our places of business, where we work with other people and see (hopefully) lots of customers.

Many of them do just enough to get by at their jobs, and complain a lot as customers, either about little things or about their jobs or families or whatever.

It generally comes down to people saying or acting out, "I didn't sign up for this shit, and if I did, it's only because I need to eat."

You know what? That describes a lot of us.

There's this pearl of wisdom out there that says, "Whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

That's only true if you allow it to make you stronger. If you make a conscious effort to grow from it, to learn the lesson the thing that doesn't kill you is trying to teach you.

Here's what the true story is. You're stuck with whatever you're stuck with it. You can opt out and push through the consequences (maybe it's quitting your job, selling a bunch of crap you don't need, and going out in search of your true calling), or you can be awesome with what you have while you have it.

All it takes is for you to flip a switch internally and decide to be amazing at it.

Do you dislike your job? You probably have three options (that don't involve quitting):
(1) Be lazy until they decide to fire you (by the way, someone else worked really hard to make the money they're paying out to you, so think about that when you consider this road).
(2) Do just enough to not get fired. Which will make you more miserable because you're going to stay stuck in that same lousy job, probably without anything more than minimal raises.
(3) Rock it. Just make up your mind to be amazing at this job while you have it, and either someone else is going to hire you because they see you're awesome, or you'll get promoted into a position you like better.

If your cat repeatedly can't make it to the litter box, clean up that poop and love your cat like it's the best thing that ever happened to you.

If your stupid sister drags you to the gym at 5:00 every morning because she has to be at work at 7 even though you don't have to be at work until 10, make her catch up to you in the workouts.

You want to know what else? If you make up your mind to do amazing at the thing you dislike the most, your level of awesome will only increase in the things you enjoy.

If your resolve nothing else for 2012, do that. Go. Be amazing.

[photo credit]

How I’m increasing my productivity

Over the past month I've taken on a few things. A new promotion at work, a few house projects, and I'm working on a few personal projects, like seeing more people and fewer computer screens.

I also, as some of you know, am involved in several local non-profits.

Here's what I'm doing to keep sane and get more productive.


Workflowy. Workflowy is an online to-do list that comes to me as a suggestion from Phil. I've never really been one for to-do lists (just like I keep my shopping list in my head), but I've been using Workflowy for a week now and I love it. I keep a browser tab on it at all times, and I use it for everything from long-term projects to an editorial calendar. It has a simple hierarchical structure so you can include details, you can mark either parts or the whole complete, tag things you need to get done today or make a higher priority, and you get an email each morning letting you know where you are.

Dropbox. I've been using Dropbox for a couple of years, since I began using multiple devices (laptop, netbook, smart phone, iPod). It's a virtual hard drive, with public sharing capabilities. It syncs when you're online, but if you're not online you can still edit items that have already been synced on the device you're using. Also, it's free, until you need more than 2GB of space.

Google. I figured you didn't need a link. Google docs, Google calendar and Google groups have been a big help across the board, primarily because of the ability to share and group-edit.


Facebook. I dumped the game apps from Facebook, which means no more Scrabble or Words With Friends until I get the other stuff straightened out. That means I won't be checking to see if my opponents have played their moves. And in fact, I'm only opening Facebook when I want to check on the pages I administer.

Email. I've set up a work email filter, so that I'm only checking work emails when I am in a position to get work done. That's saving me a lot more time than I expected.

Wellness. This should be a no-brainer, but it's so often overlooked. If you eat well, get enough sleep, get a massage occasionally, get some exercise and some fresh air, you'll be sharp, quick, and alert. You'll get your stuff done, and you'll have energy beyond that.

Skip artificial borders. And by that, I'm really talking dates. I've already published my New Year's post. I don't feel the need to wait until a new year, or a new month, or a new week to start something new. Just start it. The sooner you do, the sooner you'll be happy you did.

What are your favorite tools and habits for productivity?

How to be a hero

There's only so long I can let things sit in a folder without cleaning it out. I'm glad I had an extra half-hour yesterday, because I took it to get started on Nate Green's "The Hero Handbook."

Go to his blog and download the PDF. It's 136 pages, and it's free.

And it's awesome.

I already do a lot of this stuff. I get up early. I get enough sleep. I eat primarily real food. I'm well hydrated, usually knocking off about 50 ounces of water before I leave the house. My workouts are intense and are actually work. I try to indulge once in a while, and I do my best to enjoy life.

But there are definitely other areas of my life I can use a kick in the butt in. And this book is a how-to guide for a lot of your life.

Again, it's free. Go read it now.

What’s inspiring me these days

What keeps you reading? Writing? Getting up in the morning? Doing X, whatever X is? Here are some of the things that are inspiring me these days.


Parkour is the art of free-running. You've probably seen some of these videos make the email chain rounds. Yes, these athletes actually run up walls, climb apartment complexes and jump across rooftops. It requires a lot of practice, strength, focus and planning. While it looks improvised, most of these routes have been plotted out, and moves rehearsed – people fall all the time, it's part of parkour. But it's beautiful and freeing to watch.

Arnold Schwarzenegger (no, really)

The governator gave the commencement speech at USC a couple of years ago, and as part of that address, he gave six rules for success (mock him if you like, he's an immigrant with sport, acting and political cred; what have you done lately?). My favorite is this:

None of my rules, by the way, of success, will work unless you do. I've always figured out that there 24 hours a day. You sleep six hours and have 18 hours left. Now, I know there are some of you out there that say well, wait a minute, I sleep eight hours or nine hours. Well, then, just sleep faster, I would recommend.

Stephanie Foo

If you've never listened to Snap Judgment, go hit play on one of the podcasts while you're reading. You won't regret it. Stephanie Foo works on the show, and she has an awesome Tumblr called Mos Steph. Add it to your feed reader.


Zboog is my friend Zach, who runs a studio called Omega Darling, which does animation and other post-production work. I've known him since second grade, and he's always been an amazing artist; he was figure drawing way back in elementary school, and as long as I've known him he's been experimenting with something in art, including sleeping in a room with wires running everywhere as he honed his 3D animation chops. If you love visuals, check out his Tumblr, What Inspired Zboog, which is just beautiful.

What are you watching/reading/listening to these days?

Intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation: Nike gets it right

"Just Do It," says Nike. Just do it. Just. Fucking. Do. It. It's really all you have to do. It doesn't matter what it is, just get busy living it.

For some people, the most difficult thing they do all day is get out of bed. For some, it's because they don't know what the day will bring. Not getting out of bed allows them to avoid uncertainty. For others, it's because they do know what the day will bring. They don't want to face another 8 or 10 or 12 or 24 hours of whatever-it-is.

Just about all of them, however, do put their feet on the floor, get some shoes on their feet and get out the door. Why? It doesn't matter. They made the choice to just do it.

So, what motivates us to just do it? You'd be surprised, it seems. Dan Pink, in the above video, talks about the science of motivation. Extrinsic rewards (think money and free stuff) don't help. In fact, they hinder most processes.

Pink talks about "the candle problem." I'll spoil it for you.

You are placed at a table surrounded by walls. You are given a box of thumbtacks, a candle and a book of matches. You are assigned the task of attaching the candle to the wall in such a way that no wax drips on the table.

One group is assigned the task with no reward promised. Another group is assigned the task and told that if they finish among the first 20% of people, they'll get $5.

Invariably, the group promised $5 finishes over three minutes slower than everyone else.

The solution to the problem, and it gets more obvious when you see pictures of the setup, is to dump the thumbtacks out of the box, tack the box to the wall, and put the candle in the box, so the wax drips on the box, not the table.

The people promised the money couldn't get the creative part of it; the money made them think too linearly.

Need proof of that linear thinking? When presented with the thumbtacks already out of the box, those with the extrinsic motivation – that is, the money – are able to finish faster, since the solution is right there in front of them.

Let's take it out of the laboratory.

Adonal Foyle (Central New York link: Colgate grad!) played NBA basketball for a while. He made good money (multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts). But his career was short-lived because he had so much trouble maintaining a healthy weight. He even had a personal chef to try to control it.

But he couldn't. He just didn't have the intrinsic motivation to get it done. He didn't just do it.

At some point, you have to make the decision to get up and get back on the horse. Nobody else cares if you succeed. Or fail. You have to.

Let me tell you about Ben. Ben has struggled with his weight for a long time and about six weeks ago, he was watching an episode of "The Biggest Loser" and he said, "OK, I'm going to do something about my weight." Here's the kicker: He got out of bed, went to the gym, and started training.

He still has his struggles. He fell off the horse recently, but recognized that if he just set his mind to it, he could get back on. He had to just do it.

And as long as we're talking exercise, even Richard Simmons can't help you if you don't want to help yourself.

The motivation has to come from you. You have to just do it.

Competition, writes Seth Godin, brings out lowest common denominator. You only run as fast, ride as far, play as hard as you have to in order to win. You don't live up to your full potential. And speaking of full potential, a recent study showed that if you were lied to and told 2% above your best effort was actually your best effort, you could beat that 2% increase – that is, if your best mile is a 10-minute mile but you're paced against a timer that's off, you can beat a 9:48; that's a pretty big drop.

So you have to find that motivation from within. Some tools:

Day Zero Project allows you to create a "101 things to do in 1001 days" list, and track it (hat tip to Amber).
Watch Me Change is an app that works with your cell phone camera to line up before-and-after photos that then overlay so you can watch the shape of your body change as you bulk up or slim down.

It's up to you. "Do or do not, there is no try," Yoda said. So do it. Just. Do. It.