What I Learned from Making Coffee for Ten Days

My life is a huge mess. Everyday, I would jump from one meeting to another. Not to mention a barrage of e-mails with different issues from various projects. Sometimes, I come out from meetings wondering what I have discussed or what the meeting was all about.

There are all kinds of documents to fill up, project charter, status update report, risk management document, issue log etc… I have even caught myself sending updates to the wrong projects.

It is a vicious cycle. The more I do, the more things I need to do, the more stressed I become.

After finishing work, I have to attend other personal matters. Family commitments. Children issues. Financial challenges etc… I was operating a maximum capacity by going nowhere.

My mentor gave me this advice, “Next ten days, make yourself the best cup of coffee that you know how to make.”

Every morning for the last ten days, I would prepare hot water, coffee powder, sugar, and cream. What I was looking for is not the best tasting cup of coffee but the best effort.

The first couple of days, I did not think too much about making coffee. I was just going through the usual autopilot. I just want to get it done so that I can get back to my work.

After four days, I was able to pay more attention to making coffee. As the days progresses, my concentration got slightly better.  Soon the concentration begin to spread to my work. I was able to concentrate one task at a time without having other thoughts behind my head.

That real problem was not the task at hand, but my concentration. If I am doing one task, I am already planning or wondering about the second task. Looking back, many of my challenges came from correcting mistakes that I have.

If I cannot afford the time to correct my mistakes, I should get it correct from the start.

Try this to have a better concentration

Just do one thing a day to your best effort by putting all your concentration on it. It does not need to be making coffee. It could be concentrating on every bite of your breakfast. Concentrating on how you brush your teeth, by feeling how the toothbrush brushes against your teeth. The task does not have to be special or unique but a something that you would do everyday.

Be prepared to be frustrated. The first few times will be frustrating and disappointing. With enough practice, your concentration will be better and soon it will spread to the rest of your day.

Why not just dive straight into work and focus? Obviously, it is possible. However, the whole process can be intimidating especially we have the habit of doing many things at the same time.

In closing, even if you feel that you cannot get the concentration that you need. The very least, you can tell yourself no matter how bad was the day, you still managed to get one thing done with your best effort.

Further reading: Think You’re Multitasking? Think Again

How to Get a Decision Out from Anyone During A Discussion

In my job as a project manager, one of my biggest challenge is having team members or stakeholders who are not able to make a decision. Even at home, we cannot decide on what movie to watch together.

I call this the Blank Page Syndrome. Sometimes, when there are too many options, we somehow just freeze and not able to make a decision.  When I try to facilitate a discussion. The discussion would just go nowhere.

The problem is not about lack of ideas. The problem is the person is drawing blanks and unable to put a framework into the discussion.

Instead of moving the discussion by asking the person what is her decision. I would make a couple of suggestion and provide reasons behind the suggestions.

Easily nine out of ten times, the person would respond to my suggestion. Sometimes, an entirely new decision can be reached. Sometimes, decisions are made and explored further based on my suggestions.

Of course, my method does not always work. Especially, when I am not in the position to make the decision or I do not have the right information. Simply making suggestions that are non-sense would damage your professional image. When that happens, dig deep and find out more information. Make your suggestion based on solid information and logical reasoning.

Sunday Video: How to Crack Your Own Back. Without a Chiropractor.

Everyday I would sit at least 10 hours in the office chair. This is definitely no good for the body. At the end of the day, the body is also stiff and aching.

The following video shows some of the twist and backbend that I do every night before going to bed. I am not a doctor, so follow the video at your own risk.

Do note that I also mix my routine with some yoga pose. Nonetheless, I find the video very informative.

Podcast That Made Me 1% Better Everyday

Everyday, I spend about an hour on the road. Instead of listening to the radio. I prefer to spend it on listening to podcast. The podcast that I listen to helps me to improve my daily life and gives me motivation to better myself.

I hope the following podcast helps you as much as it did for me.

The Tim Ferris Show. Tim Ferris is the author of the Four Hour Work Week. In his podcast, he interviews world class performers and tries to understand what makes these people successful. I have picked up many tools, tactics, and advice from the podcast.

The James Altucher Show. I learned about James Altucher through his bestseller – Choose Yourself. I pick up this book during the darker period of my career. That time, I have no one to talk to, no more to go. I was a broken man. His book helped me through it. Since then, I have been a fan of his work. \

Hardcore History. Dan Carlin makes history fun and interesting. Check out the Warth of Khan series. It is epic and awesome. I wish my history teacher was as good as Dan Carlin.

More or Less. This is a BBC Radio show that debunks numbers and statistics that used by politicians, commercials, news and everyday life. The way you read and see numbers will never be the same.

You Are Not So Smart. A podcast about cognitive biases and self-delusion. You think you are right and have absolute free will to decide? Better listen to this podcast and think again.

Get it Done Guy. A podcast that is run by Stever Robbins. He offers great tips and ideas on managing your day to day life and career. I totally dig the podcast’s tagline – “Work Less, Do More and have a Great Life”.

My Two Nightly Shut Down Routine

I always have difficulty falling asleep. I have experimented all kinds to get a better sleep. No screen time before going to bed — not possible as I tend to have late conference calls. A glass of warm milk — don’t think it works on me.

After messing around, I have boiled down to two activities that kinda work for me.The methods below work at two level. One method helps me psychologically to reduce the stress. While the other method helps to let the body relax and prepare for bedtime.

Plan Ahead and Keep a Journal

I write down all the things that I need to do for the following day. Not only I list the items, I assign a time slot for the work. I am still a pen and paper guy. Check out the Bullet Journal method. I have been using it for about two years.

Write down three things that you are grateful for. Write down three affirmations about yourself. This practice is from the Five Minutes Journal. You can print the PDF version here.

Writing things down helps me to keep things in perspective. Otherwise, I find my thoughts wonder all over while trying to sleep.

Uneven Breathing Exercise

I learned this method during Yoga lessons. We did this breathing method right at the start of the class.

Close your eyes, take a deep breath and count to four. Hold the breath and count to four again. Exhale and count to eight. Do as many things as necessary.

This video instruction is slightly different from my method. But the essence is the same.

The breathing exercise helps me to calm the body and refocus to the present moment. It is also telling the body to relax.

Of course, certain lifestyle changes are needed too. I do not drink coffee after 12 noon. And I do not drink any alcohol during weekdays. During weekends, I limit myself to one serve of alcohol per day.

I am lazy person. I have difficulty following routines that are complex and long. So far, the method that I have described works for me. I hope it works for you too. Do share your

Do share your experience and your routine. Everyone can learn something together.