The Power of When Book Review and Circadian Rhythms

I’ve worked out over the years that I get a lot more done first thing in the morning (between around 6am and 9am) than any other time of day. According to Dr Michael Breus, author of The Power of When, this aligns with my Lion Chronotype! This might be the case but it also coincides with when no-one else has really started calling or emailing me so I don’t get interrupted like I do later in the day. After listening the-power-of-whento Dr Breus on Ben Greenfield’s Podcast I was prompted to pick up his book.

There are some interesting ideas relating to our body clocks, different Chronotypes and the best time to do various things throughout the day. However I’m not sure I’d recommend the book too strongly as a lot of the information I found slightly irrelevant and the rest is available on the Power of When website (The Power of When website) and Ben Greenfield’s podcast (https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/podcasts/) for free. A more detailed review of the book can be found below but I would recommend checking out Greenfield’s Podcast and if you’re into ‘health-hacks’ he has some other really interesting material there.

In the Power of When book Dr Breus reframes conventional wisdom of ‘early birds’ and ‘night-owls’ into 4 categories he calls Lion, Bear, Wolf and Dolphin, which he calls Chronotypes. The book and Ben Greenfield’s podcast on the subject cover these in more detail but Lion’s tend to rise early and be more responsive and productive in the morning whilst tiring early in the evening. Wolves on the other hand struggle with early starts and stay up later into the night. In my opinion these types of classifications tend to be on a spectrum rather than distinct categories but I can out as a Lion in the Chronotype quiz (fairly near the Lion / Bear border!). The book and Ben Greenfield’s podcast on the subject cover these in more detail but Lions tend to rise early and be more responsive and productive in the morning whilst tiring early in the evening.

Book Highlights:

For me the quiz, which is linked to above, was fairly interesting to find out what Chronotype best fit with me and the characteristics of that Chronotype. I think some people who may struggle with sleeping or feel tired during the day may find that some awareness of your natural body and hormonal rhythms would be useful. It may even prompt some people to restructure their day for more productive.

The bulk of the book is looking into any activities you may do in a typical day and then suggests when it might be best to try and complete those activities and why, for each Chronotype. So they cover relationships, fitness, health, sleep, eat and drink, work, creativity, money and having fun.

I found some of the later sections on Chrono-seasonality interesting. The premise being those living in places where the length of days and nights varies dramatically between winter and summer will typically want to sleep more in the winter and less in the summer. In the UK, where I live, we get very short winter days and short summer nights. I decided to black out my windows as I found that in the summers, when it gets light around 4am, meant I slept quite poorly. I’ve also been fortune to travel to some tropical destinations and found I’ve always slept really well. For example at Christmas I was in Costa Rica and I typically woke up with sunrise around 5.30am, was outside most of the day getting tons of natural light and then crashed out around 9.30pm which is a few hours after sunset.

Limitations:

One point is I felt that some sections seemed a bit surplus to requirements and actually the bulk of the interesting stuff could have probably been covered in an article. So it felt sometimes like the author included anything and everything to pad the book out.

I think the main limitation of the book is that some of the recommendations are a little unrealistic for some people and our lives get in the way. For example, I think sleep is a really important part of being healthy and something most people don’t get enough of. I’ve got lots of friends who have stressful jobs and young kids and simply don’t get enough sleep. In Dr Breus’ book he advocates a sleep pattern and trying to stick to that even at weekends when some may like to stay in bed longer. In my humble opinion if you’ve only slept 4 hours a night Monday to Friday then I would sleep as much as possible at weekends to catch up. Obviously the optimum strategy  is consistent bedtimes and wake up times that fit with your natural body clock but that isn’t realistic for most. This is true for a lot of other recommendations in the book – most people have fairly strict schedules when it comes to work hours, when kids need to be dropped off and collected from school, etc….. so simply can’t change most of this schedule. That said if these things are meaning you aren’t sleeping enough then a dramatic life change – like moving house or changing jobs – is certainly worth considering.

If you want to check the book out you can buy it on Amazon here – the Power of When – but I’d recommend instead listening to the relevant podcast and taking the quiz as linked to above before doing so.

 

 

 

Deep Work – Avoiding Distraction and Procrastination

This post includes a review and some of my highlights from Cal Newport’s book – ‘Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World’. I came to read the book as I was starting to think about my latest big work project of trying to launch a subscription website. I’m not a programmer and the work involved in putting this website together seemed daunting and my current main source of income can keep me very busy and doesn’t leave much time to focus on other longer term projects. In addition to my work I am also prone to distraction and procrastinating – I work for myself from home so it would be incredibly easy to do nothing but browse the web and watch box-sets all day. I’m not that bad and have gotten a lot better over the years but still felt I could use so help in the area of focused productivity. So after a lot of research Cal Newport’s book kept coming up and I gave it a go. I finished reading it at the end of last year and some of the ideas I have implemented and some I am still working on. For me meaningful change is relatively gradual rather than a light bulb moment so if I can implement one positive habit at a time then that is great.

I did find some of the ideas in Cal’s book to be really interesting and some were, at first sight, very controversial. One of the main premises of the book is to basically lock yourself away with no human interaction, no distractions, no Internet etc…. So to get your best work done you need extended periods of concentration without distraction. Most people’s response to this is along the lines of ‘it would be impossible to do my job without the internet’ or something to that effect. In addition the typical trend in businesses is to open plan, collaborative working with people sharing ideas and constantly interrupting each other. Cal is also realistic about the implementation of Deep Work so he doesn’t expect us all to disappear off the grid for 6 months. However, for most of us it would be possible to ignore emails for 2 hours a day, for example. A Tim Ferris trick is to add an auto-responder such as ‘I read and respond to emails between 4pm and 5pm each day …..’ to help manage the sender’s expectations. This is an idea I like but I’m yet to use the auto responder – instead I just ignore emails for a few hours and so far there haven’t been any catastrophes!

Here are a few of my highlights from Cal’s book Deep Work:

  1. Focus on a small number of wildly important / ambitious goals rather than simply trying to do more.
  2. Focus on improving lead measure rather than the end result. Cal Newport’s example, as writer of academic papers, was tracking deep work hours per day rather than focusing on the number of papers he wrote per year. Focusing initially on the number of papers lacks influence, whereas tracking hours per day is immediately implementable and ultimately has a direct impact on the number of papers written in a year.
  3. Weekly reviews – Cal looked back at his records of hours worked, progress made, etc…. each week and therefore built up an understanding of what made a good week and what made a bad week.
  4. Make sure you have time scheduled to relax, ideally the same time each day, otherwise you’re robbing your attention centres of the uninterrupted rest they need. So since reading the book I no longer work after dinner in the evening. If I feel busy or have things to do I simply attack them first thing the next morning – I typically get up around 7am which gives me around 2 hours before most people are online so I don’t need to interrupt my evenings with responding to after hours emails and other fairly trivial things.
  5. Its ok to be bored. These days most of us carry around smart phones which have infinite possibilities when it comes to distracting us. So typically when we’re on our own in a restaurant waiting for someone to arrive, or in a long queue somewhere we typically reach for our phones. This accustoms our brains to ‘on-demand distractions’ and makes it hard to resist checking Instagram / checking emails / reading the sports news etc….. even at times when we want to concentrate on other things. So practise NOT looking at your smart phone when waiting 5 minutes somewhere and just be bored for a moment to avoid constantly distracting yourself
  6. Schedule internet use. This point follows on from the point above but does take some discipline. Many of us need the internet for work when researching, emailing etc…. But it also provides a significant distraction and many of us also need to concentrate and get into projects that don’t need the internet for extended periods. For example in my work I have to put together client presentations and complicated property development cash flows that need concentration to pull together and don’t require me to be online. So when working on these I’ll schedule 2 hours offline – emails can wait.
  7. Give some thought to your leisure time. So when it comes to relaxing don’t just do whatever grabs your attention at the time but plan something you’ll enjoy / find interesting.

For practical productivity ideas I’d certainly recommend giving Deep Work and read. In addition I think that and David Allen’s ‘Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity’ is a very good partner to Deep Work. Both give you practical measures you can implement into your daily routine for real practical benefits. I think all the new tech tools,  apps and websites actually provide more distraction than useful tools so these help filter out what is useful and what is mere distraction.

Here are some links to Amazon for Cal Newport’s ‘Deep Work’ and ‘Getting Things Done’ by David Allen if you want to check them out. If you sometimes struggle with distraction or procrastination or are drowning in emails I’d recommend doing so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My highlight

Current Affairs: Prisoners of Geography

The post is my view on current affairs, news relevancy and a related book review of ‘Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About Global Politics’ by Tim Marshall.

Firstly I’ve never been that interested in the news. As a kid is was something my parents viewed as important and would often interrupt whatever my brother and I were watching to put it in. The news is typically very repetitive, deeply depressing and doesn’t even scratch the surface of what is going on in the world. The latter point I only slowly realised as an adult. Also as a young adult bosses at work and peers would champion the importance of reading newspapers and ‘keeping up’ with current affairs. I enjoyed reading books but never really got into regularly reading newspapers. One of my main problems is that news often come with a heavy dose of political bias depending on who you are hearing it from. For example my parents have always purchased the Daily Mail (a UK national daily newspaper) which a polite liberal may describe as ‘having a reputation for right wing leanings’ and a less polite liberal would say is ‘fascist propaganda’. I don’t know the US equivalent of the Daily Mail but Fox News would probably be an appropriate news equivalent. As a brief aside, I do enjoy getting news via comedy outlets – in the UK there is a great long running show on the BBC called ‘Have I Got News For You’ and in the US I really enjoyed Jon Stewart’s the Daily Show until he left and Stephen Colbert’s the Colbert Report. I’d consider myself a relatively liberal person on the political scale and I’m aware a lot of these political comedy shows come with a dose of liberal bias.

Despite not really watching the news or reading newspapers I still feel I have a better understanding of the world than most. The news may report a bombing in the Middle East but at no point during the report or article will they give much detail into the deep rooted motives behind the attack. Many of the countries in the world, particularly in the Middle East and Africa, are a result of arbitrary borders drawn on maps from afar by privileged Europeans decades ago. Whilst these countries and borders look definitive and real when view on a map they have divided communities, thrown small ethnic groups under the command of arch enemies and created land disputes amongst ancient tribes. In addition the actions of many countries are motivated by this historic feuds as well as a push for resources and trade routes. So my advice is that if you want to really understand what is going on in a region, then find some books that explore the history of the area and this will be more enlightening than a 5 minute news report everyday.

A great place to start is Prisoners of Geography by Tim Marshall. Given the complexitprisoners-of-geographyies of geo-politics this book is remarkably easy reading and concise. It covers 10 keys areas of the world and other than Oceania this is pretty much everywhere. If you’ve ever been confused by the actions of certain countries, such as why big superpowers like China get obsessed with small regions like Tibet, or why Russia have sailed warships through the English Channel, then this book gives you the context you need.

There are other books that provide more detailed accounts of specific regions – for instance if you are interested in the Middle East there is a great book call A Line in the Sand by James Barr – however as a general overview of modern global politics and some context to the major issues and conflicts in the world, Prisoners of Geography is a great place to start.

Here’s a link to Prisoners of Geography on Amazon if you’re interested in checking it out. The maps are better in the hard copy but I’m a Kindle user and found the Kindle version work ok as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

HiiT, Gymnastic Strength Training and Mobility

I went to my usual gym yesterday and it was around 5 times busier than normal. Early January is predictably a busy time of the year for gyms. Something that is equally predictable, albeit more depressing, is that the vast majority of people who attack their New Year exercise regime with vigour for a week or two, won’t be continuing beyond their training beyond the end of January. I think there are a few key reasons for this:

  1. People tend to thrash around on cardio machines until they’re pools of sweat but don’t see much in terms of results
  2. A lot of guys will hit the weights hard and at best have very bad muscle soreness and at worse give themselves an injury
  3. Thirdly I think most people either ignore their diet or at least get it wildly wrong and if weight loss is the goal what you eat should be the first thing to look at. I don’t think restricting calories dramatically for a few weeks in the New Year and then going back to the crap you were eating before is a particularly healthy or beneficial way of going about things

I’ll look at the diet side of things more in future posts as there is a lot to cover there but for now I’m going to give an overview of the exercise I do. I’m not an elite athlete or Men’s Health cover model but I’m 6 foot 2 inches tall and a relatively lean 87 kgs (sorry for mixing metric and imperial measurements!) and keep active. My natural build as a teenager was always very skinny and the exercise mentioned here has seen me put on as reasonable amount of muscle and improve my mobility. I had started to put on a bit of fat a few years ago which I’ve subsequently lost – I put this mainly down to improving my diet but exercise is an important part of my healthy lifestyle and I think everyone could benefit from the exercises listed here. I also haven’t been ill for over 3 years (not even a cold) and whilst I think most of this is also down to diet, exercise plays a part.

HiiT

High Intensity Interval Training (HiiT) has been fairly popular for a while now and has been something I’ve done regularly for around 3 years. There are various forms of it and a quick Google will find countless articles, workouts and YouTube videos with some useful tips. I basically don’t do any steady state cardio at all anymore and do HiiT instead – I used to run a lot but started to get minor injuries – mainly very tight Achilles tendons that were painful everyday I woke up (foam roll and stretch your calf muscles and stop running if this is you), occasional knee pain and occasional lower back pain. My HiiT workouts typically follow one of two categories and both involve an interval timer on my smart phone (I use IntervalTimer in the App Store).

My very short interval workout is a Tabata session – this is 8 rounds of 20 seconds of very high intensity with 10 second breaks between. This means your workout is done in 4 minutes! For the exercise I think the resistance bikes are a good option as you can get your big muscle groups screaming very quickly – nb normal exercise bikes tend not to work as well as you can’t vary the resistance as quickly. Alternatives could be a rowing machine on full resistance, battle ropes, jump squats even sprints if you are outside and don’t have access to a gym (ideally sprint up a hill to add resistance). The key here is to pick an exercise that will get your heart rate up and have you out of breath in the 20 second interval so intensity is the key. I either do this when I have very little time free in a day or tack it onto the end of a workout. The science of this is beyond the scope of the blog but there are lots of resources on line about this but I find Ben Greenfield to be a reliable source on diet and fitness and he has a guide to Interval Training, including the Tabata Method.

My longer interval workout can last around 20 minutes so still fairly short and sharp compared to most people on the cardio machines. Here I will typically do 10 different exercises in a circuit, each for 20 seconds, with a 10 second interval between then. I will complete 3 circuits of the 10 exercises with a 2 minutes rest between each circuit. Exercises include stand press up, jump squats, kettlebell swings, mountain climbers etc…. I have a ‘no equipment version’ that I can do in a hotel room or anywhere I have no gym but a bit of privacy! You can experiment with different interval lengths and rest times and if this is new to you break yourself in gently. I used to do 30 second intervals but reduced it to 20 seconds as I found I was pacing myself a bit on the exercises – remember intensity is the key so don’t make the intervals or workouts too long if intensity is suffering.

Gymnastic Strength Training and Mobility

Gymnastic Strength Training (GST) is something that is relatively new to me and is another thing I was put onto by Tim Ferriss. He had a person called Christopher Sommer (Coach Sommer) on his Podcast and Coach Sommer is a very experienced Olympic gymnastic coach who has developed a program for normal mortals to benefit from gymnastic strength training. I started a Foundation course from their website (https://www.gymnasticbodies.com/) around 3 months ago. I’ve noticed some improvements in certain areas like mobility and posture – some of the benefits take a long time to develop as it isn’t just muscle strength but building stronger connective tissue and greater range of motion in key areas like shoulders and hips. This won’t make you a professional gymnast but if, like me, you spend a lot of your day sitting at a computer and not moving as much as you’d like I’d suggest some training like this. If GST isn’t for you I think some similar benefits could be gained from yoga and Pilates but I think GST provides some unique moves and strength / mobility in important areas not necessarily covered as well in other exercises. There is a cost to the Gymnastic Bodies courses but you can find some free initial info around the web – here are a few places:

  1. A YouTube Video with some introductory moves
  2. Tim Ferriss’s Podcast On Gymnastic Strength Training With Christopher Sommer
  3. There is an iPhone App called Power Monkey Fitness that has some similar moves and content – this isn’t anything to do with Christopher Sommer and isn’t as structured as his courses on Gymnastic Bodies but I believe there is some good free content there
  4. Instagram – search for GymnasticBodies, GST, GymnasticStrengthTraining and you’ll find lots of inspiration and short videos

A lot of people start GST but get frustrated with the slow progress – a quote from Gymnastic Bodies nicely summed this up:

IT’S A SLOW PROCESS, BUT QUITTING WON’T SPEED IT UP

Mobility

The mobility element of my training is largely now covered by the GST I do. However as I have gotten older (I’m now 36) I’ve increased the amount of mobility work I do as part of my work out and feel this is a really important factor in keeping injury free. A relatively well known mobility guru is a guy called Kelly Starrett and his book ‘Becoming A Supply Leopard’ is well worth checking out. If you’d rather find some free information on Kelly he has loads of YouTube videos so check those out.

One point regarding mobility – this is not the same as flexibility. Being flexible without strength in the extremes of your range of motion can be dangerous and make you prone to injury. Mobility ensures a broad range of motion and strength in the associated muscles and connective tissue to minimise injury risk.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goals For the Year / Tools of Titans

I’m not one for New Years resolutions but have in the past set goals and tried to introduce new positive habits. Therefore I’ve set various goals and habits for the year and will look into others in future posts. The goal covered later in the post is to do with my business and the habit I’m looking to introduce is maintaining this blog!

I read a lot of non-fiction / popular science type books and many have referred to regular writing as being beneficial in many ways. One way is simply to improve one’s writing. Beyond that if you have any sort of online presence such as a blog, a company website or have to correspond with people by email then being able to communicate in writing in an effective way is hugely beneficial. My business goal for the year is covered below but will involve creating significantly more website content and blog posted than I currently do so I want to be in the habit of writing on a daily basis. The aim with regards to the blog is to update it once or twice per week and beyond that daily journaling will help me to create content and ideas. The journaling idea and the change I’m looking to make are both inspired by Tim Ferriss and therefore I’ve included in this post is a brief review of his latest book that I recently read.

I was away in Costa Rica over Christmas and spent most of my time surfing, relaxing in the sun and reading – one of the books I read was Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans. I’ve been reading Timtoolsoftitans‘s books for several years, ever since the 4 hour work week, and have also listened to his podcasts for a few years.

Prior to reading Tim’s books I’d dipped in and out of certain ‘self-help’ type books and I hadn’t found them that interesting or practical. With the 4 hour work week I found genuinely useful ideas and practises that have slowly crept into my day to day activities. Through Tim and other writers (they’ll get mentions in future posts) I have looked to improve areas of my life that are important to me such as my health and my work life. Willpower is rarely sustainable so making something a daily habit, like brushing my teeth, gives me a much better chance of maintaining it long term. So with blogging and journaling the aim is to commit 10 – 30 minutes first thing every morning (or at least 5 days a week). My working day doesn’t properly kick off until 9am and I’m fortunate to work from home so I have plenty of time to fit this in before my phone starts ringing and emails start rolling in.

Tim Ferriss does keep very good company and Tools of Titans is a collection of ideas from his podcasts with various high functioning guests. I read the Kindle version and like to bookmark various pages for future reference. It is the kind of book you will dip in and out of regularly but not necessarily read cover to cover. That said, I did read it cover to cover to make sure I didn’t miss anything – I found some of Tim’s most interesting contributors those I’d never heard of before so just going to chapters with the familiar names may not have been as rewarding for me. If you were to listen to all of Tim’s podcasts and condense them into the most useful highlights you’d have something similar to this book but if you don’t have the time or inclination to do that I would recommend checking this book out and making notes and / or bookmarking things that peak your interest. If you’re not familiar with Tim’s work I would recommend starting with either the 4 Hour Work Week or the 4 Hour Body depending on whether your interests lie in Lifestyle Design and Productivity or Heath and Fitness. His other book – the 4 Hour Chef – I found less interesting but it might be worth checking out if you can’t cook but want to learn some basics. I also find his podcast interesting and a habit I introduced last year was going for walks whilst listening to Podcasts – Tim’s along with various others – have been hugely interesting and useful.

So on to one of my goals for the year – the aim is to make my main income fully remote. This blog is not part of that directly so if you find my writing clumsy, boring or irrelevant that is fine – this is more a tool to get my thoughts down and make myself accountable on my goals. I am going to recommend certain books and products through this blog but my main income comes from a completely unrelated business. That business is a property finance consultancy where I work with property developers to help them fund construction projects and property acquisitions. I can do a lot of work remotely, and most of my work is done from home, but currently need to attend meetings fairly frequently and this is something I’m looking to change. I have been doing this for over 10 years and have worked for myself for around 8 years. I enjoy my work, find it interesting and like working for myself but I would like to spend more time overseas and pursuing other interest so if I can remove myself from areas of my work or change the way I monetise my business that would allow my to leave my current base (London, England) for longer periods of time. As part of that I need to also address the accommodation situation – I currently rent an apartment in Central London with my girlfriend. This is fairly expensive and that is fine while we’re here but if we were to be overseas for an extended period then renting here and somewhere else doesn’t make sense.

I’ll pick up on this and some other goals in future posts. They include health, fitness, creating better habits for myself and business related goals. I’ll be including very brief reviews of books, podcasts, supplements and other resources I’ve found useful along the way.