Quiet Habits

In a noisy world, it's important to find a little quiet

Despite being one month into this quarter of 2019, I'm still writing about my goals and plans. And, as predicted, I've made a few changes. If you remember my Year of Change post, I committed to do 100 pushups in one go by the end of the quarter and to journal every day. Well, personal and professional goals and focuses have shifted since I wrote that post, so I've made a small update to this quarter's goals. I'll still be striving to do 100 pushups by the end of the quarter, but I've decided to shift my focus from journalling every day to planning my time more effectively.

Let me explain why I made the change. In my day job, I have days that feel so unstructured that it feels like I get nothing done. Sometimes this lack of structure is a blessing that allows me to explore my passions, learn new things, and tinker. Other days, it feels like a pit of despair that is sucking away my life and work. At home, things feel the same. There seems to constantly be a list of things that I want to accomplish or need to get done, but that rarely get worked on. For example, it's taken me several weeks to finally write this blog post. My newly created non-fiction podcast has been sitting stagnant for a couple of months, and I still haven't organized our new reading room. In short, my time is unscheduled and turbulent. I don't have an anchor or a plan or a direction, so I get tossed about by the whims of outside forces. I want to change that.

While I am currently a slave to disorganization and chaos, I don't want to become a slave to my calendar and to-do list. I do, however, want to plan and use my time more effectively and accomplish more with my limited time.

Before I get into my goals and plans to use my time effectively, let me tell you how I plan to reach my goal of 100 pushups by the end of March.

When I started a few weeks ago, I did 12 pushups before my arms gave up and refused to push anymore. Yup, just 12.

This past week I did 2 sets of 20 pushups in a row, which is a pretty big deal for me. Here's my plan:

  • Saturday: Max out
  • Sunday: Rest/stretch day
  • Monday – Friday: Do about 10-20% fewer per set than my last max (e.g., if my max on Saturday was 20 pushups, I would try to do 15-18 pushups per set). I'm trying to alternate 1-2 sets one day and 2-4 sets the next day so I don't get too sore or tired.
  • Occasionally do some cardio, like the 7-minute workout, to boost endurance.

And that's it. It's not rocket science. It's probably not the best plan and it's definitely not perfect. I'll tweak it throughout the next two months, but that's my plan so far. Hopefully it works!

Now, on to my planning plan.

I want to keep this whole daily planning thing as simple as possible. I basically have 2 things to plan for: home life and work life.

I want to plan them in the same place, but I'd like to keep some of the planning process separate. Here's my plan:

  • Monthly: The last day or two of the month, I will plan my entire month, mostly including recurring items (work days/hours, family dinners, grocery shopping, date nights, bills, paydays, etc.) and big events (birthdays, travel, vacation, holidays, etc.). These things are easy to plan because they typically happen at the same time every month/week/day.
    • My wife and I will also plan meals for the entire month and plan 2-4 grocery trips during the month for those meals (2-4 because some produce just doesn't last that long)
  • Weekly: On Sunday, I will plan out the next week Monday – Sunday. Verify plans from monthly planning and make necessary changes. Finalize weekly things like meal plans, grocery shopping, and work schedules. Plan time for things like blogging, podcasting, R&R, cleaning, house projects, etc. I'll also write out a list of items I need to accomplish during the week and schedule tentative times and days to accomplish them (things like “Call the bank” or “Return library books” or “Get rock chip repaired”). I'll also create any reminders in my phone for things that don't require an event, such as “Bring camera to work” or “Request time off work”.
  • Daily: Each night I will review plans, events, and reminders from weekly and monthly planning. I'll make plans to accomplish tasks that need to be done the next day (for example, if we have a birthday party this weekend, I would make plans to pick up a gift and a card at the store after work, which might look like “5:45pm – buy gift and card for Joe”. I will fill remaining time with things I want to or need to do. I won't fill every available hour with an activity or I will leave open time for fun, relaxing things (watching a movie, browsing YouTube, playing with my daughter, going for a bike ride, etc.). The idea is, by the time I reach daily planning, most of my time should be scheduled, so I'll need to either confirm plans or fill in any remaining gaps.

I don't expect any of these planning sessions to take up too much time, but I do want to have specific, scheduled time set aside for planning. I think that weekly planning will be shorter and easier because I've already done monthly planning and daily planning will be even shorter and easier because I've already done monthly and weekly planning.

That takes care of most of my home life, so work life will require a little extra effort. I'm on the computer all day at work, so almost all of my planning will be done in Google Calendar. I work for an ed-tech company on a small team, so things change and evolve from time to time. Because of this, I won't be doing in-depth monthly planning.

At work, my plan is to review major events for the coming month at the end of each month. These include scheduled meetings, team events, major releases and milestones, etc.

Each Friday, I will spend the last 30 minutes or so of my day planning out the next week. I don't always know what projects I'll be working on, but I typically can plan a general sense of what my days will look like. I'll plan any meetings, schedule tasks that I haven't completed yet or that are coming up, write down reminders, and tentatively plan out my time with known projects (for example, I might plan a 3 hour block to respond to user comments on Monday afternoon).

Every morning I will spend 10-15 minutes planning my day. I'll confirm the weekly plans I've made, move things around, add new things that have come up, and schedule all my time, including time for professional development.

Then, every evening, I'll spend another 10-15 minutes before I go home reflecting on the day. I'll ask myself what went well, what I accomplished, what didn't go as well, where I got off track, and what adjustments need to be made. I don't expect to ever stick to a schedule 100% of the time, but I'd like to reflect and find out what worked and what didn't. Then I'll write down any tasks or reminders for the next day or later in the week or month. I also want to briefly plan out the next day. I think spending 10-15 minutes at the beginning and end of my work days to plan and reflect will help me be more mindful of the work I'm doing and where I'm spending my time.

And that's it. That was kind of a long explanation for something that I hope won't be too overly complicated. The idea is to simplify my life by planning and structuring my time. I hope to not only be more productive and efficient, but to find time to enjoy more in life and not feel worried or stressed about what I have going on in my life.

Social Media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit. It seems like it's everywhere, permeating our lives with its presence. Almost everyone you know is on at least one platform and more people are joining every day. But people are also leaving platforms in droves, either permanently or for a short “fast”, for a variety of reasons, privacy concerns, mental health needs, minimizing their online presence, online bullying, a bad breakup, or wanting to spend more time in reality, everyone who leaves has a reason. There are tons of blog posts, tweets, facebook posts, and “stories” about why someone is leaving the platform and why you should, too.

And yes, I'm adding another “I'm leaving social media” blog post to the pile. But I hope mine is a little different. I'm not going to provide reasons why you should leave social media or provide tips for leaving (as I've done in the past). I'm not going to berate you for continuing to use the platforms or list 5 reasons why a certain online platform is evil and will steal all your data. I'm trying not to take a “holier than thou” or “this is how you should live your life” approach to this whole thing. Simply put, this post is not a guide to quitting social media or an essay to convince you to quit. It's a thoughtful look at my own social media usage, how it affects my life, my mood, my mind, and how I'm going to handle taking a break for a while.

First, the confessional. I spend a lot of time on social media. Probably about an average amount of time, maybe a couple of hours a day some days, maybe 30 minutes another. I check or post to a social media site at least once a day. I spend most of my time on Twitter, Reddit, and Instagram. I don't interact with most of the posts I see or people who I follow, but when I see something that really strikes me as interesting I'll like it or retweet it, and sometimes, very rarely, I'll comment. Most of the time, it's mindless, endless scrolling. Sometimes I fall asleep scrolling and accidentally tap a link or like a post that I didn't mean to like. It's a problem.

Now, the challenge. There are numerous reasons for “fasting”. People do it for religious reasons, health reasons, for fun, or for medical reasons. Fasting is usually associated with food, although lately it's been associated with lots of things, especially technology-related things. Fasting, generally, is to go without something in order to gain some reward. Sometimes it's spiritual enlightenment, sometimes it's realizing how blessed we are to have food, and sometimes it's great health benefits. My social media fast is for one big reason: I want to focus all of my time and attention on family and friends this month. It's Christmas time and we have a lot of parties, family gatherings, dinners, and more. I don't want to bury my face in my phone while I'm with family. I don't want to try to get the perfect Instagram shot of the tree or Santa or some presents (although I'm still going to take lots of pictures). I don't want to worry about what someone else got under their tree or what yummy food someone else is eating or cool parties or how much snow some other city got. I want to focus on the tangible, real-time events happening around me. In short: I want to be 100% present and aware this month.

So, for the entire month of December, I will not be browsing Twitter or scrolling Facebook. I won't be double-tapping on Instagram photos or tapping through stories. I won't be worrying about likes or laugh emojis or retweets or followers. I will be focusing on hugs and smiles and laughter and the sound of tearing wrapping paper and the witty banter at family dinner and the smell of fresh crepes and the look of joy on my daughter's face as she opens her presents and the twinkle of Christmas lights and the stillness before snow starts falling. I'll be living in the moment. Feel free to join me. This isn't a challenge or an invitation or a mandate. Think of this as an open suggestion. I don't think it will be too difficult to live without being constantly connected, but I hope the effects are felt and have a lasting impact.

If you liked this article, please consider subscribing or sharing with your friends on Twitter or Facebook

Something has been eating at me for a while. Something I haven't been able to put into words. A problem. A dissatisfaction with the current state of things. With incumbency in online spaces. With comfort. With the way things are. I think I've finally figured it out, or, figured part of it out. I'm dissatisfied with the way things work for writers online, with basically the whole system. Here's how it works now, in a super-simplified nutshell: You want to start writing. You find a cool domain name for your blog and purchase it. You choose a content management system that's been around for a long time. You pay a hosting company (likely a shady conglomerate company with horrible support recommended to you in a blog post entitled “How to Start a Succesful Blog”) a small monthly fee, install Wordpress, run through a few initial admin things and you're ready to start writing. You might be ready, but your newly created website is far from ready.

So far, unless you're pretty tech savvy, you're already a couple of hours into this project. But now you must find a theme for your website (let me guess, you're probably using Wordpress and hosting on Bluehost?). Now you've found out about site hackers, comment spam, Wordpress security holes, updates, shared hosting slowness, Google Analytics, Google Ads, affiliate links, membership sites, Wordpress admin settings, email newsletters, RSS feeds, social media updates, Medium cross-posting, SEO services, mail servers, etc., etc. Whew! What an exhausting list. And that's not even everything!

After a year or two of posting quality content to an ad-filled site (you've gotta pay the bills, right?), you're struggling to find even 1,000 readers every month.

And you're dumping hours and hours of your precious weekend into managing all the barely functioning pieces of your blog.

And you're constantly barraged with emails about guest posts, posts about your online presence, and sad statistics.

You brought this blog into existence because you wanted to write, right? You didn't want to play the marketing/SEO games, fight constant attacks and spam, manage incoming and outgoing email, update your site, upgrade your hosting plan.

And yet here you are. Most blogs and websites get abandoned in the first couple of years. While this is for a variety of reasons (lack of traffic, lack of time, loss of interest, lack of monetary earnings, among others), I think a lot of these come down to bloggers not having an easy, affordable way to sit down, write, and publish.

You started out as a writer and suddenly you're either juggling 15 different tools and services to keep up with the current blogging “requirements” or you're looking at paying someone else a lot of money to do this for you. Either way, you just want to get back to writing great content and interacting with your readers in meaningful ways. After all, that's what being a writer is all about: bringing valuable content to the eyes or ears of readers (or listeners).

And ultimately that's what I've been struggling with. I didn't start writing online so that I could become a content manager or a web developer or a businessperson. I'm not in the business of managing content or a brand or a marketing campaign.

I'm participating in the longstanding tradition and art of writing. And yes, like any artist, I want visibility (and I'd like to make some money on the side if people are getting real value from what I create) and I crave knowing that people find value in what I do. But I refuse to split my time between 20 different projects that are a “requirement” to participate in today's blogging/marketing garbage heap. Yep, I said it. Most articles published online are content marketing garbage that is not intended to uplift, inform, or entertain. Their sole purpose is to sell something. And the irony is that these posts are usually on sites plastered with ads that also only exist to get you to spend money. And money is the goal, right? That's what many people (ironically, many of the same people who create these online courses and garbage blog articles) want you to think. Don't get me wrong, I'd like to make money from the art that I create and the value that I provide. But if money was my only motivator and goal, there are much better ways to earn it. I, like many bloggers, have a day job that pays the bills.

I don't want a “media empire” or a “million-dollar website” or a million followers or to be a social media influencer or to beat the SEO game. I want to write what's in my head and my heart and then edit it so it's valuable to my readers. I want to get an email from a reader that says, “Thank you for writing this, it really made me laugh (or cry, or think differently, or change my habits).” That's real value. I'm not a marketer or content manager. I'm a writer and I will continue to write the best content I can. If it's good, I believe it'll be shared with the relevant audience. If it's not, I'll hear about it. That doesn't mean that all great content gets shared all the time. It's an uphill battle to get your writing in front of reader's eyes, but I believe that eventually, every writer finds their audience if they consistently write and publish great content. Great content gets shared and remembered. Garbage content gets skimmed and forgotten and lost in the endless pile of articles on the Internet.

Online writing is experiencing a shift. With the rise of new platforms like Ghost, Medium, and others, there is a new breed of writers and a new way to earn a living from practicing your craft. Value is being assigned in new ways and the old ad-based, click-based, view-based system is slowly dying out. The days of garbage writing are over. The days of readers supporting artists that they love, care about, and relate to are coming into maturity and I can't be happier about it. There's still a lot of work to do. A quick online search will tell you that content [marketing] is still king and that the SEO hackers and sites plastered with ads are still winning the majority share. We have to vote with our views and our clicks, and if possible with our wallets. Block their ads. Don't read the crap. Abandon the sites that hound you with ads, pop-ups, sign up forms, autoplay videos, and site notifications. Downvote them into extinction and allow the new generation of writers and writing to emerge from the ashes.

I hope to provide the highest quality content possible on this site for as long as possible. There won't be ads here. There won't be affiliate links to random products (I'm still going to post links to writers and content that I love, and some of them will help me make money to keep this blog running). Everything here will be valuable and uphold the mission statement of this blog.

Enter Write.As. I found Write.as a while ago. Probably through a search for blogging platforms. I bookmarked it, tried it out, and moved on. This past week, I rediscovered it and fell in love (despite its minor flaws and quirks). The service provides not only a simple way to publish anonymously but a super simple way to write a blog as well. It fits all the important criteria that I ranted about on Twitter.

I don't think there is a “perfect” writing platform, just like there isn't a perfect car or house or pair of jeans. But Write.as certainly comes close. Most importantly, it fits my needs and isn't trying to fill every possible use case (like most CMSs and site builders nowadays). The most beautiful thing about it is that I can log in and immediately start writing. I'm never bombarded with updates, stats, plugins, spam, etc. I simply log in, write, edit, and publish. The company is small but has a great business model that's working. And they have wonderful guiding principles (something more companies need nowadays) And as a bonus, it's super affordable.

So, dear reader, you've made it this far and are probably wondering “Well, what now? What should I expect from Quiet Habits going forward? What's this blog about? Why should I come back for more?” And the answer is that there isn't an easy answer. The fact is, I've been pretending to try to become an expert in habits and life changes and minimalism for too long and I don't want to be an expert. Yes, those things are still my focus and interest. But I don't want to write list-style posts or give advice like I know what I'm talking about. I want to write about my experiences in these spaces like the messy human being that I am, mistakes and all. So, don't expect a change in topics, just a change in approach. Expect higher quality content that may be longer and as frequent as possible (quality over quantity, right?) on the same topics that lead you here in the first place.

As for the technical side of this blog, it'll be hosted and run using Write.as for the foreseeable future so that I can focus more on writing and less on all the other stuff. And I can promise you everything you read here will be authentic, well-written, interesting, and worth your time. I don't sit down in order to create fluff so I get more web traffic and boost my Google rank. I sit down and write because I need to express my thoughts and I want to add value to the lives of others.

I'm also toying with the idea of recording these posts and making them available as kind of a podcast/audio-blog. Basically, I'd just be reading and recording my blog posts mostly verbatim for those of you who prefer listening to online articles over reading them. Let me know what you think about the idea on Twitter @quiethabits or via email nathan “at” quiethabits.net.

As an aside, I promise to not write too many more of these “I'm changing everything about my blog and here's why” blog posts. Your regularly scheduled program will return shortly. ;)

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.