The “batch it crazy” technique (Part 1)

I admit it. I made this meme … on the toilet. In this age of mindful eating, mindful parenting, mindful business, mindful everything, how could I sink so low? Read and weep. (Spoiler: there’s a happy end.)

The decline

Until recently I had this outdated hand-me-down phone. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt used the same model to stay in touch with their alien ancestors. Half of the apps did not work. Half of the sites did not load. It only had wifi. Perfect!

I used the old thing primarily to text my wife or set reminders. (I have no social life.) But some persistent thoughts kept nagging at me. They whispered:

  • With a proper smartphone you could leave your camera, MP3-player and notebook at home.
  • You’d take more pictures again.
  • You’d always have a GPS with you, even on your bicycle.
  • You could Skype or listen to TED-talks while cleaning the house.
  • You could update your calendar and Trello wherever you go.
  • You’d finally join the 21st century.

I ignored these arguments for years, because I saw how people around me were being bossed around by their phones’ bleeps and peeps from morning till evening. It’s worse than having children.

But I’d join them eventually.

Pure heroine

I was addicted the moment I sat down and browsed the Play Store. After day one I had to remove Facebook ASAP before my IQ dropped irreversibly. But Coach.me and Instagram already had their hooks too deep in my mind, even though I had disabled all distracting sounds and push notifications.

Sure it’s fun that I was taking more pics again. The phone fits more comfortably in my pocket than any camera ever did, so I take it everywhere.

However, this is how I used to take pics:

  1. Take camera out of manly bag (if I had it with me)
  2. Take camera out of case
  3. Turn camera on
  4. Take picture

With Instagram, this became:

  1. Take phone out of pants
  2. Unlock phone
  3. Tap camera app
  4. Take picture
  5. Tap picture to tap share
  6. Tap Instagram
  7. Crop picture
  8. Adjust brightness and contrast
  9. Spend minutes going back and forth between filters
  10. Think of witty caption
  11. Think of hashtags
  12. Decide which social media to share on
  13. Check who used the same hashtags
  14. Get lost on instagram commenting and liking
  15. Check if anyone responded to my pic
  16. Repeat steps 14 and 15 compulsively
  17. Finally put phone away
  18. Feel internal pull to repeat steps 14 and 15 compulsively

And that’s just 1 app!

It was the same with Facebook, Twitter, Coach.me, WordPress… Each one demanded my attention and chipped away at my precious time. Enough!

I didn’t want to go back to my pharaoh phone, so I sought a middle way.

Batchman to the rescue

I happen to be the ubernerd of a small company. My colleagues routinely turn to me when their computer says “no or when a client has trouble with our products. In the past this meant my real work was constantly getting interrupted. It was awful! Then I turned it around with the “batch it crazy” technique.

Now I work at home 4 days out of 5.  In the morning I begin with my most important tasks. I don’t let anything interfere until 11 AM. Then I take an hour to check e-mails and social media in case any colleagues or clients need me. Once a week I’m at the office to help where I can.

This batching approach really pays off. So I decided to apply the same principle to my smartphone abuse.

After testing some apps (the irony!) I find Stay Focused quite helpful and easy. I’ve set it to block attention hogs like Instagram if I use them more than 10 minutes a day.

Now I’m back to taking pics without posting them online immediately. I batch all the filtering, uploading, captioning, hashtagging and whatnot into 10 minutes in the evening or during lunch break.

So what exactly is the “batch it crazy” technique?

  1. Identify what scatters your attention.
    (troubleshooting? social media? phone calls? recurring worries?)
  2. Schedule a recurring time slot for it.
    (an hour a day? one day a week?)
  3. Batch it into the time slot, instead of letting it distract you many times a day.

How can you apply it?

P.S. Are you reading this on the toilet? Here’s that meme generator. 🙂
P.P.S. This is me on Instagram. Come say hi!

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A method to be calm or be quiet

Be Calm or Be Quiet

Some of my friends at coach.me have asked about my “BCBQ” habit.
Here’s what it’s about…

Bonkers!

Are you a parent? This might sound familiar.

This morning my daughters were dawdling in the bathroom again. Nothing Res (35) or I (37) said convinced them to get cracking. Their fun and games soon turned into hitting and kicking.

At breakfast Amp (7) threw a milk carton at Midi (4) because she claimed the cereals first. A bit later Amp accidentally knocked over her cup and spilled milk on her chair and the kitchen floor. Moments later Midi did the same.

We were finally out the door and on our bicycles when Amp realised I was right about the clumsy bag she had wanted to take to school. It was impossible for her to carry it while riding her bike.

We could hear the first school bell ring in the distance. But Amp still had to go back inside and transfer her things to her regular bag.

Stress anyone?

Be calm or be quiet

Could you spot the 7 triggers that drove me insane in the past? Today I didn’t even raise my voice. Read on and I’ll tell you how this change happened.

Eventually the girls stopped fighting (twice), made it downstairs in time and cleaned up their mess. Amp apologized to me (without being asked) and solved her schoolbag problem herself. Finally they were in school on time, smiling. And I rode my bike home, smiling.

All the time I didn’t raise my voice, nor did I threaten with punishment. I did not clean up for them or nag (well, only once or twice).

I’m not saying I never loose my cool anymore. Yes, I often get into a trance and add fuel to the fire by starting a big rant, but the difference with some months ago is significant.

Here’s how I’m making progress.

The 4 Ms

Whenever I notice unrest in myself or people around me, I use the same heuristic:

  1. Mouth: My mouth is shut with the tongue curled inside.
  2. Mudra: Some fingertips touch lightly, as if I’m holding a pen.
  3. Mantra: Synchronised with the breath, I think: “This is temporary. I remain quiet.”
  4. Meditation: I observe how all sensations change constantly (mind, body, environment …)

When I feel peaceful myself, I only apply this loosely.
I try and help the other to calm down, while I keep words to a minimum.

The instant I feel the slightest unrest growing in myself, I get back to being quiet and using the 4 Ms deliberately. Often I leave the room before negative feelings get intense. I take some time to be alone and focus on all 4 steps. The insight “this is temporary” works like magic for me.

It also helps to write down what I want to discuss later on, when I’m calm again. This reminds me I don’t have to try and force a solution right here and now. Usually it’s not a matter of life and death.

It doesn’t happen overnight

BCBQ is a test I’ve been running for a couple of months now. It’s the hardest habit change I’ve done in my life. I’ve tried it in the past with less success.

The difference now is that I’ve made it my number 1 priority.

  • I train myself to rehearse the 4Ms when I wake up, at breakfast, lunch, dinner and when I’m in bed before falling asleep.
  • During morning meditation I think “This is temporary” when I breathe out and “I remain quiet” when I breathe in. (When you know about non-dualism or the 3 characteristics of existence, you can appreciate these words on a different level.)
  • I apply the 4 Ms as often as I can. Not only with my kids or when there’s a conflict, but whenever I notice frustration, impatience, irritation … big or small.
  • All over the house there are “BCBQ” post-it notes to remind me.
  • I’ve asked my wife and kids to say “calm please” when I start to rant.

Celebrate

I used to be quite hard on myself when I had snapped at my kids. But beating myself up about it, didn’t help at all. Since I prioritize the BCBQ habit, I focus on celebrating every time I succeed.

The biggest payoff is that I get to help my kids to be calm or be quiet as well.
Lead by example, right?

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Make it easier

I’m back! It’s almost been a year! What’s new?

Yes, I’m making music again. (see youtube above)
No, I’m not drawing much anymore.
Yes, my family and I have lived abroad for a month in 2014.
No, I didn’t finish that work life balance project yet.
Yes, I’ve started to run again, wearing Xero shoes. (see youtube above)
No, my left foot pain isn’t fixed yet.
Yes, I’m still meditating daily.
No, I’m not enlightened yet.
Yes, you look great today.

These are some of the things I’ll be writing about:

what (action) how much (criteria) when (trigger)
1 sleep enough 7 hours 22:00 – 5:30
2 meditate 45 minutes 6:00 – 6:45
3 exercise 15 minutes 6:15 – 6:30
4 bcbq once a day kids
5 repeat mantra once a day wake, breakfast, lunch, dinner, bed
6 eat healthy two meals breakfast + lunch or dinner
7 write for blog 30 minutes 8:30
8 take breaks every 30 minutes MagicWorkCycle
9 boost teamwork 30 minutes 11:00
10 study 30 minutes train, lunchbreak, toilet
11 prioritize 30 minutes 16:00
12 simplify 30 minutes 16:30

I’ll explain “bcbq” soon. To be continued! (update: Here it is.)

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A better approach to Work-Life balance

omnibrooding

I’m onto something here. It started off as a long article about Work-Life balance. Then it took the proportions of an e-book, and now … well, you’ll just have to wait and see.

In the meanwhile it’s keeping me away from blogging. If you want know when it’s finished, drop me an e-mail and I’ll keep you posted.

Here are some teasers:

  1. 10 minute recipe for a successful day
  2. Should you always treat others like you want to be treated yourself?
  3. Taking breaks like a boss

Be a dear and mail me your feedback. Don’t hold back, I can take it!

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Don’t take yourself too personally

David Allen and David Demets
David Allen and David Demets

Grey is the new black

I’m 36. My first grey hairs have appeared. In my eyebrows! I didn’t expect them there. They just pop up when and where they please. I have no say in the matter.

I’m taking control! (Right?)

I read a lot about life-hacking, productivity, effectiveness … I adopt better habits and see how they lead to positive changes both at work and at home.

For example: years ago at the office, we just took work as it came. In between copywriting, audio editing, video editing, designing websites, brochures or posters (and occasionally serving as a substitute yoga instructor), I did whatever landed on my desk.

There was no clear focus. Things didn’t get done when they were due. Stuff piled up. I had little to say and felt like I was constantly putting out fires. Something had to change, and it most certainly did when I introduced GTD at work.

Now surprises still pop up and there are a lot of loose ends, but we deal with it in a more relaxed way. We’re better prepared, take more time for what matters and our service has improved a great deal. I even work from home a couple of days a week.

It feels like I’m proactively taking life into my own hands.

But am I really?

If I pause to take a better look, I notice how this body and mind do everything by themselves. The heart beats, lungs breathe, eyes blink, hairs turn grey … The body keeps on hearing, seeing, tasting, smelling and feeling while the hands move to type these words.

Where do the ideas come from that lead to this text? I don’t know what my next thought will be. Yet: suddenly there it is! Something approves of it or rejects it. All by itself.

Meanwhile a nineties song is on repeat in the back of my head, ever since I heard it yesterday. I’d prefer something by Jamie Lidell right now, but I can’t simply will Hole away.

It all happens automagically. And yet I take it all so personally. Without much thought I feel responsable for what this body and mind do. But if “they” do it all on their own, what is this “I” anyway? And what is this “you” then?

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Allow me to get corny for a moment

2014-03-28-me-so-corny

What are the odds of us being alive at the same time? Homo Sapiens have been around for about 200.000 years. Suddenly you and me appear on stage. Where I live, average life expectancy is 80.5 years. So there’s hope for me to be around for another 44 years. How long have you got? In the small overlap of shared lifetime we have the privilege to connect, thanks to technology or proximity.

What are the odds of you reading this? There are 1.77 billion pages out there, next to the endless messages in your social media streams and inboxes. It’s been rumored that some people still read stuff on paper as well.

What are the odds of us agreeing? We’re born with our unique genetic makeup, into families with disparate backgrounds. Our cultures might be quite contrasting, with a different set of beliefs, habits and desires. Still, there you are: living, breathing, reading my blog. WordPress shows me you’re from Belgium, Canada, Greece, India, Malta, Netherlands, New-Zealand, Russia, UK,  Ukraine, USA, South-Africa …

If I were that kind of guy, I’d believe there’s greater meaning to be found in all of this. But being who I am, all I have to say is:

Thank you, come again!

David

PS: We have so much potential and information at our disposal, with approximately 16 waking hours in front of us every morning. It’s easy to get distracted or overwhelmed.  Are you clear on what you will do today? Don’t hesitate if you have something nice to share. Tomorrow we might no longer find each other.

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Common questions about meditation

Image by limegreen367

Q: Why meditate?

A: What appeals to you?

Q: How should I meditate?

A: Observing the breath is a good start. Look for “Meditation basics” in my previous article.

Where you go after that, depends on your why. Try both guided and unguided meditation. Pick a method that makes sense and you enjoy doing. Otherwise it won’t stick long. For a bunch of high quality free resources, look for “The best things in life are free” in my previous article.

Q: Do I need a formal meditation practice? Isn’t it enough to be mindful or focused during daily activities?

A: I strongly recommend informal meditation during daily life. I also strongly recommend a formal daily session, because :

  • It’s a more reliable habit.
  • You make it clear to yourself that meditation is a priority.
  • There is far less distraction.
  • It can be a big contrast with informal meditation, which is insightful.
  • Even if your formal session is only 2 minutes, it’s a good foundation to build upon.

Combine formal and informal meditation. Give it time. It won’t disappoint you.

Q: When is the best time to meditate?

A: Whenever there is little or no distraction.

The usual recommendations are to meditate first thing in the morning (good start to the day), not to do it after lunch (the brain gets less blood supply), to pick the same time and place every day (habit formation 101) … That’s all great advice, but only if it works for you.

Because of my particular job and family life, every day looks different. Some days I work at our home office, other days I work in Bruges. Some days my wife takes the kids to school, other days I do … I have tried getting up even earlier than I already do, but that habit didn’t stick too well.

Arriving home is the most reliable trigger for me. I meditate right after. For you it might be an entirely different trigger.

Q: Where should I meditate?

A: Wherever there is little or no distraction.

Our home office is my sanctuary, but I also meditate in the bedroom, on the train, in the garden, in a field, on the bank of a river …

Q: For how long should I meditate?

A: However long you feel like. The only bad meditation is the one you didn’t do.

There’s also much to be said for increasing your formal meditation time. But do it gradually. Over the years I went from 10 to 30 to 60 minutes a day. Relaxation has deepened. I have learned a great deal about mind and body. My perspective on life has dramatically changed … Just try it for yourself and let me know how it goes.

Q: Should I close my eyes?

A: Do what helps you focus.

If you get too sleepy with eyes shut, leave them open or half closed. If you get too distracted with eyes open, close them. This need can change in the course of longer sits.

I used to be unable to meditate with eyes closed. I would drift off to La La Land right away. This slowly improved and nowadays it’s no longer a problem.

Q: How should I sit to meditate?

A: Check this Posture Pedia by Stephanie Nash.

As mentioned before I like the Burmese posture and seiza (see my YouTube at 6:45 and 35:08). When I use a chair, I often get sleepy, unless I don’t lean against the back.

Q: What if I lose motivation? What if I don’t find the time anymore?

A: Go back to basics. Pick a new trigger. Sit for shorter times again. Choose a different technique.

Q: Why does my favorite technique no longer work?

A: No worries!

Maybe you used to get very peaceful and focussed during meditation, but now you seem to have lost this skill?

Something might have changed in your life that brings new challenges, with a busy mind as a result. Nothing personal. This too shall pass.

Maybe relaxation is no longer the main reason to meditate and it’s time for insight practice, self-inquiry or contemplation?

You simply lost interest in the technique? Or it has run its course? That’s okay, but don’t just hop from one method to another. Stick to one at a time for at least a month.

Q: I have many doubts.

A: That’s great! Stay curious. Trust yourself. Go with the flow.

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