Posted in Freedom Friday, Other Things

How to Sleep Well

Toss. Turn. Fluff the pillow. Covers. No covers. I’ve been there. Getting a good night’s sleep had been a goal of mine for a long time. It took me a long time to understand what a good night’s sleep involved. Once I found the secret—because really, that is what it is, a secret—I now gorge on the ZZZ’s.

Sleeping well
Sleeping well

For today’s Freedom Friday post, I’m going to talk about the most important productivity booster you will ever know—sleep.

It wasn’t too long ago when I suffered from insomnia. I have posts dedicated to the subject and my stories are legendary. For instance, there was a point four years ago that I was getting two hours of sleep a night. You may ask how on earth I could have functioned on so little sleep. It wasn’t easy. The condition had lasted for years culminating in the worst year of my life. I’d fallen ill three times that year, one major blow after another. This is from a guy who hadn’t gotten sick since 2005. Flus, fevers, coughs, colds—you name it, I had it.

The bright side to that year was finding a rhythm that worked for me, but not after many attempts and a few failures along the way.

This is how I do it.

Say Good Night—Interesting how the simple act of a goodnight kiss will prep the body to begin shutting down. For me, as soon as I begin my goodnight tour, my eyes begin to drift, my muscles relax and I find that I’m dragging my limbs upstairs instead of walking. This is all very well and fine, because it’s the body’s way of telling me it’s ready to hit the sack. And it all starts with saying goodnight.

Prepare the Sleeping Area—My ritual entails stripping the bed and making it over again, even if it’s done. Yes, I admit it is strange. But it’s my thing. It’s another step toward solid sleep. I remove the wrinkles. Tighten the sheets. Fluff the pillows and create a fold. I know, and I agree that it’s obsessive compulsive. You know what, though? Every time I get under the sheets, it feels great knowing I’ve made the bed minutes earlier. Call me strange.

Wash and Get Dressed—Hygiene is very important for a sound, restful sleep. Every night I brush my teeth, wash my face, comb my hair and go pee—and wash my hands again, of course. Then I slip into my PJs made of 100% cotton. The material is important because I find 100% cotton allows my skin to breathe. Try sleeping with polyester on your skin. Not a fun night Charlie Brown.

Downtime—Once I’ve taken care of the prerequisites, I’ll turn off all the lights except for the one on my nightstand. I’ll dim that one to its lowest setting. Next, I’ll pray, listen to music, read, perhaps play a game or two and slowly allow my eyes to close. Sometimes I won’t even have the chance to do anything. I’ll simply be ready for bed. The downtime provides my body to ease into its sleep cycle. It’s not about the activity, but about allowing your body to shut down naturally. For a long time I didn’t do this and found myself wide awake at two in the morning.

In Bed—Once I’ve completed the Twenty-Mile Marathon, I put everything away, tuck myself under the sheets and turn off the light. Seriously, within seconds I fall asleep and wake up every morning feeling refreshed and invigorated. The trick while sleeping is to never look at the clock. Eventually, the alarm will go off and you’ll bounce out of bed with all the energy you need to tackle the day’s events.

That’s all there is to it. Now you know me a little more than you had a few minutes ago.

Last piece of advise, if you’re looking to get a good night’s sleep: find your rhythm. It’ll take a while, but once you find it, your body will be happy you did.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale now.
RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale now.

Have you suffered from insomnia? What was your cure?

Posted in Freedom Friday

Without Our Phones

When did we all of a sudden become so tethered to our phones? Whenever I take the train into the city, everyone has a device of some sort keeping them entertained. I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about “the itch”. If you don’t know what I mean, the itch is this compulsion to check our phones. Constantly.

What would the world be without devices?
What would the world be without devices?

I’ve spoken about this subject before, but more from the time management, productivity angle. This Freedom Friday post is more from a rant perspective. As you know, I don’t rant on my blog—at least my regular readers know this. I try to keep things on the lighter side. Even my zombie-related posts have a thread of dark humor I weave through it, and for those who can see it, I’m grateful. Sometimes, the only way I’ll know if I did a good job of it is when I get feedback stating such.

But this constant obsession with checking our devices has gotten way, way out of hand.

I’m writing this from the standpoint that I, too, am a big offender. When my book came out last year, I couldn’t go a few minutes without checking my phone. With a blog, a twitter account, facebook page, Amazon and email, I had my hands full. Literally. Things did settle down a few months later, yet what a crazy time that was.

Then there’s the intimacy issue.

When I’m at the mall, I’ll sometimes sit at a bench and watch people. Twenty years ago, people watching used to be fun. Husbands would fight with their wives about the cost of a new dress. Wives would fight with their husbands for checking out the new blond cashier over at the deli. This happened more often than you think, probably still does. And parents would get mad at their kids for wanting that shiny new game featured in the window of the mall’s biggest toy store.

Nowadays, everyone has their head down and they’re not talking with one another.

Ah, but the counterargument to that observation is that we’re all being social online. It’s a different way to communicate. Yes, I agree. It is different. The nuances people use to get their point across while communicating online disappears. Sure we have the smileys, winks and frowns, but where is the involuntary brush of the hair when someone’s lying? Or seeing them bite their nails in conversation because of anxiety? Or hearing the inflection of their voice when they’re about to fall to pieces? Or the tender touch when opening our hearts?

We’re living in a world where bits of information has replaced reality.

What would the world be like if we’d put away our devices?

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale October 21.

What about you? Do you find it difficult to put your phone down? What would you do differently to keep that phone disconnected and experience life as reality?

Posted in Freedom Friday

The In-Betweens

Do you like secrets? Yeah, I like them, too. I have a secret—well, not like my dark secret I admitted to about a year ago—but a secret, nonetheless. Do you want to know what it is? Of course you do, everyone likes secrets. This is where I insert a strategic pause to give you a moment to think about it. Okay, okay, I’ll tell you, but you’ll have to promise not to tell anyone else. Deal?

It's about time
It’s about time

All right, then. For a long time my friends have noticed I don’t waste time. This is not one of those self-appreciating statements you hear from someone who wants to put himself on a pedestal for all to admire. I just don’t like throwing my time away on useless pursuits. I never did.

You must be thinking, “Boy, Jack, you must really be high on yourself today.”

In truth, I’m being open so you’ll know where I’m coming from when I tell you my secret. Ah, I see I have your attention again. Telling you I don’t waste time is only a fraction of the overall reason for this Freedom Friday post.

Allow me to pose a question: Where do you waste most of your time?

Think about it carefully. I’m sure you can easily come up with several specific things that distract you from being productive. But you know what? You won’t believe it when I tell you what the biggest time waster is. I’m thankful I learned this secret a long time ago in my teens, and I’ve benefited from knowing it ever since.

Fine, I think you’ve had enough of my build.

Here’s the secret to being productive: It’s the in-betweens.

I can see the puzzled looks already.

Here’s an example. You’ve decided you will clean out the shed this weekend. You have the plan in place. You will unpack the deck chairs, organize the garden tools, and sweep the inside of the dirt that had accumulated over the winter. This shouldn’t take more than an hour, tops.

The weekend comes and two hours later, you’re still sweating it out trying to decide what order the garden tools belong on the shelves. Four hours later, you’re done. What happened to the one hour, tops?

Well, in between you had to check your phone to answer your messages. That is, in between placing one chair after another on the deck. That took a whole hour. Next, the garden tools. As you were deciding what to do with the pruning shears, whether they belonged on the left or right shelf, you decided to take a break in between. After all, you couldn’t do all this work without some lemonade—which, you made from real lemons, in the kitchen, away from the work that was going to take you an hour to finish, tops.

And on and on it goes. The in-betweens is where we lose our time. Those moments in between tasks are precious. This means throwing away the distractions, phone, internet, and general laziness, and getting it done without wasting time between steps.

Five minutes here, five minutes there, the next thing you know it’s been an hour and nothing gets done. It happens more often than not. The key is to prevent it from happening.

This is what I do. When I have a task, I’ll estimate how long it might take. I then give myself a hard deadline. Sometimes, I’ll underestimate the time in order to set the fire under my seat ablaze. This pushes me forward as I quickly see the time disappear and I frantically attempt to beat the deadline. It really is an exercise in self-discipline, but a rewarding challenge, nonetheless.

In the end, this is how I write all my posts. I give myself an hour and hope whatever falls on the page eventually makes sense.

Now, your turn. Try it yourself. Find a task and attempt to complete it with a hard deadline. Make it even more of a challenge by setting the deadline less than the actual time it will take doing it. Believe me, the in-betweens will disappear faster than you think and you will have accomplished your goal in record time.

Oh, all right. If you want to tell someone this secret, go ahead. I won’t stop you.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ALIEN INVASION, on sale October 21.

Where do you think you waste most of your time?

Posted in Freedom Friday

A Law of Success

I’m a firm believer in being lazy. Now, now, before you go off thinking I’m a sluggard of a man, hear me out. I’m also a firm believer in working smarter, not harder. If it takes three days to accomplish a task, I want to know how I can cut that time to one day. Like I said, I’m lazy and any time saved is time earned to do other things of interest.

Unbalanced force
Unbalanced force

Welcome to my Freedom Friday post where I open my mind and allow my brains to fall out. Today I would like to place you at a vantage point into my thinking regarding work vs. rest. Don’t worry I’m not introducing anything radical you haven’t heard before. Perhaps, I’ll even learn something myself.

I’ve written about this subject in my posts Sleep and A Day Off. Not to be redundant, but in those posts I had mention how sleep is my secret weapon against creative slumps. I’m trying hard not to make it sound like I’m bragging. I’m relating information that works for me that may also work for others. Anyway, back to the subject at hand. My secret weapon against a creative slump, brain fog, and mind block is sleep. On the weekend, I sleep an inordinate amount of hours because during the week I keep a strict seven-hour sleep schedule, depending on the night and if I have to wake up early the next morning (eg. 4:30 AM—yeah, I’m on farmer’s hours).

Did I ever tell you I suffered from insomnia for a long, long time? I think I had mentioned it. Well, of course I did. I wrote about it in my Insomnia post. For a number of years I averaged two hours of sleep. Yes, you read that right—a number a years, two hours of sleep. I learned a thing or two.

Let’s get to the meat of this post.

Newton’s First Law of Motion states: An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

You might ask, “Jack, what are you doing talking about the laws of physics?” Well, let’s take Newton’s First Law of Motion and analyze it further. There may actually be a lesson there for all of us.

Isaac Newton
Isaac Newton

The first part of the law states that an object at rest stays at rest. I learned some time ago that rest replenishes my creative flow by allowing my mind to mull over problems during my sleep cycle. My evidence? Without fail, every morning I wake up with a truckload of ideas I can’t wait to get down on paper. Many of my blog posts come from my early morning shaves soon after a good night’s sleep. I’m so used to it, I can’t wait to fall asleep knowing the next morning I’ll have some other ideas that will catch my fancy.

The second part of the law states that an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction. In my opinion, this is the ideal situation. Wouldn’t it be a grand thing to experience life in a constant predictable cycle? It can be. It means eliminating the distractions and carrying forward without anyone or anything getting in the way. It also means a heightened sense of concentration achieved by allowing you the rest needed to complete a task. Sounds counterproductive, but it does work.

Now, did you catch the fact I didn’t mention the last portion of the law? I left it last to make a point. It simply states that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

We all have those unbalanced forces in our lives that seem to suck the energy from our productivity. That’s the negative part of the equation. We’re going on our merry way, doing what we set out to do, carrying on with our daily lives when suddenly something happens and we’re stuck in the middle of a battlefield picking up the pieces. Whether it’s a death in the family, job loss, an accident or a real bad day, this happens to everyone and we can’t avoid it.

The other side of the equation involves those same unbalanced forces setting our lives on fire by spectacular means, giving us a new perspective on things and leading us to change. I’m talking about the sudden proposal of marriage, finding out you’re going to have a baby, getting a promotion, deciding to buy a new house, and yes, even winning the lottery. Good things do happen to good people.

The trick to Newton’s law of motion is to keep life at an even keel. Too little rest, we procrastinate. Too much unbalanced force, we stress out. Steady as she goes, and we’re just right. Success comes when we gain that perfect balance. Once we attain that, nothing will stop us from achieving our dreams.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, now on sale.

What other laws of physics can we utilize as a metaphor for success?

Posted in Freedom Friday

A Day Off

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about sleep and how it boosts productivity. For this week’s Freedom Friday, I would like to share another productivity booster some folks can’t imagine trying, even if their lives depended on it. Are you ready? It’s called a day off. Yeah, scary, isn’t it?

Plugged In
Plugged In

In some circles, the day off is an outdated relic that belongs on the trash heap. It gets in the way, wastes time, and is nothing more than a distraction.

I wish I had a penny for all the times I hear how we can become better at what we’re doing if we dedicate more time to what we’re doing. I’m here to tell you different. I’m here to say it’s okay to take a break. Everything will be there when you get back.

How does it work at our house?

Well, every Saturday I unplug from the internet to spend time with the family. This means you won’t find me posting or commenting on mine or anyone else’s blog. You won’t see me on Facebook or Twitter. And my email collects dust until Sunday morning. Saturdays is when I treat my family to a special meal, watch a couple of movies, visit friends and relatives, and typically relax doing nothing other than stare out the window, daydreaming. That last part happens more often than you think.

The Day Off
The Day Off

It’s a day we do what we don’t have enough time to do during the week. And I don’t mean chores.

So let’s go back to the productivity thing. How productive, really, is taking a day off every week? This question harkens back to my sleep post where I talk about time management experts encouraging folks to shorten their sleep cycles in order to gain a half-hour extra on their day to do things. I think I manage a convincing argument establishing the fallacy of that sort of thinking. That half-hour is not extra time to use for other things. That half-hour is for sleep.

Similarly, and speaking from my own standpoint, taking a day off enhances creativity and boosts energy levels. On a personal level, I mentally disconnect from life so I can replenish my reserves. By the time Sunday comes, I’m all set to tackle the week with new ideas and a healthy perspective.

There was a time I didn’t do that, and I used to have days run into each other like a continuous merry-go-round. Thankfully, that’s over. In all honesty, without wanting to sound pretentious, I find taking time off once a week to unplug from the internet and spend it with the family aids in a more balanced lifestyle.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale October 22.

Do you take a day off to unplug every week? If not, have you thought about it?

Posted in Freedom Friday

Sleep

Sleep is the single most important activity anyone can do in their lifetime to increase productivity. Take it from me, a former insomniac who a couple of years ago averaged two hours sleep a night. You want to get more done? Sleep more.

Sleeping Angel
Sleeping Angel

Sounds counterproductive, counterintuitive and counter everything, doesn’t it? But when have my Freedom Friday posts been anything but?

I read somewhere, I won’t mention where, “an expert”, I’m assuming a time management expert, had condoned the practice of shortening a person’s sleep cycle by half-an-hour a day to gain 3.5 hours of productivity a week.

I laughed.

You know what, folks. Try it. After two weeks, tell me how much productivity you’ve gained. I guarantee after a few days you will feel the effects of exhaustion set in. Oh, it’ll seem like you’re getting a lot done. Whatever you may have had on that To-Do list seems to have disappeared.

Look closer.

Does the quality meet previous high standards? Do your accomplishments look like an idiomatic whitewashed wall? How’s the attitude? And since we’re on the subject, how’s your health?

You see, when “experts” prescribe cutting sleep in order to accomplish more, they’re actually prescribing cutting your life by a matter of years. Think of it this way. Let’s say you have a regular 7-hour sleep cycle. You decide to cut it down to 6.5 hours. Well, that’s 3.5 hours of extra time a week, which translates to 182 hours of extra productivity a year. If we look at it in terms of days, that’s 7.5 days. Yeah, a week and a bit of working harder. Over the course of 52 years, you will burn well over a full year of sleep for that extra half-hour of diligence.

What’s the reality?

Constant Puyo- Eingeschlafen, 1897
Constant Puyo- Eingeschlafen, 1897

I had mentioned about my insomnia. Two hours sleep every night is not an exaggeration. You can read about it in my Insomnia post. Missing so much sleep did something to me. The days blended in with one another. Noises and voices sounded louder. I began seeing things. I became paranoid. You get that way when you trick the body into believing that extra half-hour a day awake will make you more productive. Because you can’t stop at half-an-hour a day. You want to push it to an hour, an hour-and-a-half, two hours. Eventually, your body’s Circadian Rhythm crumbles. Mine finally surrendered last year, forcing me to reevaluate everything I was doing.

Nowadays, I wake up at 5 every morning after a solid 7 hours sleep. I know what you’re thinking: “That means you go to bed at 10 every night, Jack.” Yep. Well, 9:30, to be exact. By the time I settle in, it’s 10. And I know what your other question is: “Where do you find the time to do everything?” Here’s my answer: It’s not about the time given, but about the time spent. One hour of solid creativity is better than five hours of stop-and-start spurts. Time is finite in a 24-hour day. You cannot extract 25 hours from a 24-hour day. But you can optimize 24 hours by maximizing energy levels and creativity.

The thing these experts don’t talk about is the fact that sleep restores a person. Think of it as a nightly vacation. What does a vacation do? It restores a person’s perspective on life. You can get a lot more done. In fact, studies suggest sleep improves memory, contributes to a longer lifespan, controls inflammation, increases creativity, boosts athletic performance, encourages academic excellence, amplifies attention span, aids in maintaining a healthy body weight, decreases stress, assists in avoiding accidents, and helps with evading depression.

What’s my point?

Don’t listen to experts who think they know everything. Remember: An ex-spurt is nothing more than former drip under pressure.

Sleep. Enjoy your sleep. Your body will reward you with productivity you wish you had had when you cut back on the precious commodity.

RANGER MARTIN AND THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE, on sale October 22.

Have you ever heard of cutting back on sleep to get more done? Have you ever heard of the benefits of sleep?