Things I Did in October to Make My Life Better

Every month I do a thorough (two hours at least) review of the previous month & plan the upcoming month. I also take a few minutes every day to go over what my month goals are and what I’m doing that day to advance them. In doing these monthly analyses I come up with plenty of things I need to change each month in order to live in a way that’s more conducive to my goals, my values, or just my sense of well-being and personal interests. Here are some of the things I did in October 2013 that improved my life. I’ve grouped them in a ‘general’ section and then by my goals for the year. Feel free to implement them yourself if they sound like they might benefit your life as well.

This is a long read. Here’s the summary version/table of contents. Feel free to jump down to a specific improvement you want to know more about (Ctrl+F to search a page for a specific word or phrase).

General

  • Built pre-bedtime infrastructure & made “stop on time & shut down for the day” my most important goal each day.
  • I got a small journal that’s used almost solely for daily to-do lists.
  • Willpower Instinct — the best book on understanding & implementing the concept of ‘being more motivated’.
  • Cleaned up my ‘home’ on the web, and found a way to keep track of all the movies I’ve seen.

Be a good doctor

  • Read something about my patient’s conditions every night.
  • Took time outside of work to ask my upper level coworkers (and then have them demonstrate) how to be more efficient at my job.
  • Created a 30 minute, after work ‘re-charging ritual’ that got me refreshed enough after a 12 hour day to do 1–3 more hours of work.

Ironman Training

  • Got a coach. Didn’t use his help at all. Considered the attempt a complete success.
  • Improved my workout infrastructure: a treadmill, a new battery for my HR monitor.
  • Went on some fun/adventure rides & did some cross-training with friends (mud football anyone?).

Writing the Book

  • Created a landing page to gauge interest & collect email addresses. Sign up if you want to hear about tough things medical students have been through as well as how they got through them, or about the process of writing a book.

…and now for the detailed version…


General

  • Built pre-bedtime infrastructure & made “stop on time & shut down for the day” my most important goal each day. At the end of every day I fill out a form I created called “How Was Your Day”. One of the questions in it says “What ONE THING could I do differently tomorrow to make [the quality of your day] go up the most?”. What seems to be my most common answer is some version of “sleep more/better so I’m not tired for all/most of the day”. I often have trouble sleeping at night. I spend an hour or more staring at the ceiling and usually wake up at least once in the night. So, this month I’ve done a bunch of things to help myself sleep better.
  • I put a big, comfy “bedtime chair” in my room where I’ll sit & relax & usually journal or read before bed. I light a candle next to it and then turn off my overhead light before shutting down for the day. This serves as a sort of Pavlovian trigger to my ritual of shutting down for the evening. It sets the mood, so to speak, and gets me psychologically ready to relax. I picked out some books I actually want to read so I am motivated to STOP doing other stuff and want to go home & get ready for bed. This carrot is important as a motivation factor because stopping while I’m in the middle of something that feels more important (and it’s pretty easy for something to feel more important than going to sleep) has historically been very difficult for me, even though I’ve found that my last hour or two of ‘work’ is often my least productive by far. Finally, because I’ve experienced and documented my sleepiness as the #1 negative contributor to the quality of my day, I’ve increased its improvement to my #1 priority each day. This is such a laughably obvious sentiment: “That thing that’s holding you back the most from being effective each day?…yeah…figuring out how to not doing that anymore should be high on your priority list”. But, some lessons take longer to learn than others, I guess.
  • I got a small journal that’s used almost solely for daily to-do lists. I don’t have my phone on me for most of the day (which, in contrast to my sleep habits, is probably the largest contributor to the quality of my day) so while I could use my phone for my daily to do list (Clear is a beautiful app for this) I need a different option. I’d been using an index card each day and that worked perfectly — the size, the durability…exactly what I need. The problem was that I threw it away at the end of the day and had to re-copy a lot of things down on my next to-do list. Besides having to do a lot of re-writing I wasn’t able to look back and see, with any level of detail, what I’d done each day. I had to rely on my google calendar for that, which I used mostly for meetings & weekly events, not to make my daily schedule. I wanted something that ended up basically being the size of an index card (or would fit in my pocket) and that was bound, so I could keep track of my days. After perusing some“Best paper notebooks” articles, I found Field Notes, and it works perfectly.
  • Fits in my pocket, only has 48 pages (it took me one month to go through exactly one notebook), and I even really like the look. Now I can look back through my month and see exactly what I did (and even what I planned to do and ended up doing instead) each day, and I don’t have to keep writing many of the same things down
  • Willpower Instinct — the best book on understanding & implementing the concept of ‘being more motivated’. I read a LOT of ‘self help’ type books. I’ve even read a book specifically about the science of willpower (aptly titled “Willpower”). While it was good, this book was excellent and I’m applying things from it daily right now. For example: Meditation serves the neurophysiologic function of exercising your ‘mental focus muscles’. When you do something often, your brain literally rewires itself to devote more neurons to that activity. For example, people that play the violin have a larger portion of their brain devoted to their fingers than an average person. Also, the longer a person has been a cab driver, the larger the portion of their brain devoted to spacial mapping. When you meditate and focus on just one thing (i.e. breathing) you are putting in ‘focusing reps’, just like you would for your muscles in a gym, by noticing when your mind is wandering & bringing it back to the breath. Repeatedly noticing when my mind has strayed and then bringing it back into focus, again and again, is a process that spills into and positively affects performance in countless areas of my life. I’ve been meditating on and off since 2008 or so. Needless to say, this book has convinced me to never miss a day. Other awesome stuff I learned:

- The affect of willpower fatigue & your environment.
- Rewarding yourself in non-sabatoging ways
- You’re making the same prediction mistakes, and your predictions get less accurate even when you have good data upon which to base them.

  • Cleaned up my ‘home’ on the web, and found a way to keep track of all the movies I’ve seen. Lukemurray.me is what I consider my home address on the web. It’s got links to my personal blog, my company, linkedIN, Facebook, etc. I created it through flavors.me and it required zero coding experience and was free.
  • About.me is the same thing. Aside from updating some of the content that feeds into the site, I’m trying to do a better job at keeping track of ‘art I’ve experienced’. While I’m far from accomplishing this comprehensively (or even defining it, for that matter), this month I have figured out how to add the category of ‘film’. One of the things I track and update every month is the books I’ve read (through goodreads). In my search for a ‘goodreads for movies’ I somewhat reluctantly ended up going with Flixster. I say reluctantly because one of the things I really like about goodreads is that it will display your bookshelf (see below).
  • There really isn’t an analogous feature with Flixster, either on the account itself (it’s just a list on my profile) or as a plugin like what you see above. I’d thought about trying Flixster in the past but couldn’t figure out how to add movies to my ‘collection’ at all. I still haven’t figured that out (you probably have to purchase them, and you probably have to do it through Flixster for it to count). The way you can keep track of the movies you’ve seen is by just rating them (1–5 stars) and then they’re saved in your ‘ratings’ section. Not ideal, but a good enough place to start.

Be A Good Doctor

  • Read something about my patient’s conditions every night. There’s a book called Pocket Medicine that I place by my ‘bedtime chair’ and I read at the end of the day.
  • I usually take my list of patients from the day, pick a disease that they have, and read the very short section on that disease…then I pick another one, and another, until I’m tired and ready to go to bed or would just rather read the ‘fun book’ that I’ve set aside for bedtime reading. I spend so little time during the day actually learning & thinking deeply about medicine because I’m so busy DOING medicine (aka ‘paperwork & errands’) so as much as I would usually dread ‘studying’, this actually is a welcomed breath of fresh air. It also improves the confidence I have in my medical knowledge, which could always use a boost.
  • Took time outside of work to ask my upper level coworkers (and then have them demonstrate) how to be more efficient at my job. It was my first month on wards as a brand new resident and I was overwhelmed with how much work there was to do. Actually, I should probably rephrase that to: “I was overwhelmed at how long it took me to do my work”. As I would mention these concerns, the upper level residents would say: “Don’t worry, your speed will improve with time”. While I agree that this will happen to some extent, it’s not necessarily true, and it’s far from what I believe is the appropriate response. In order to do something faster and at a higher quality you have to do it differently than you did originally. Sure, you can find the buttons faster and sequence your actions a little more intelligently, but when it comes to the complexity of medical documentation and the even broader world of a resident’s workflow in the hospital, there are easily a half dozen ways to do any given thing and you’re not incentivized to go bumbling around trying to figure out which one works best. You’re incentivized to hurry up and not miss anything. Realizing this, I went in to the hospital when I was not on the clock or in a hurry and sat down with some upper levels (that were also not busy at the time) and asked them how they do things like write notes or organize their day. I came away from some of these conversations with ways to do my work differently that would have maybe never ‘come with time’, and I’m glad that I did, because I’ll be able to do more in less time on my next rotation. Thanks, second & third years!
  • Created a 30 minute, after work ‘re-charging ritual’ that got me refreshed enough after a 12 hour day to do 1–3 more hours of work. At the end of a 12 hr workday I’m really tired, but I usually have at least an hour or two of paperwork left to do. I happened upon a ritual that recharged my batteries & willpower and got me in the mood to crank for a 13th, a 14th, and sometimes a 15th hour for that day. Immediately after finishing work I would go down to the call room, lay down on the bed and take a 10 minute nap. Then I’d wake up and meditate for 10 minutes, and finally I’d journal & look at my to-do list for that day & plan the next. Boom. A 30 minute break and I’m ready to work again. If I didn’t do this there were all kinds of other worthless things I ended up wasting my time on, and with only 4–5 hours per day to spend on something that’s not ‘on the clock’ working, wasting this time was costly. I’m definitely going to apply this ‘after work ritual’ on my next rotation.

Ironman Training

  • Got a coach. Didn’t use his help at all. Considered the attempt a complete success. At the beginning of October, I looked at my data from the last three months and was pretty discouraged. My efficiency (speed/heart rate) was not going up…nor was my average speed, or pretty much any other metric.
  • I wanted to try something different and I wasn’t sure what. I had been setting goals based on the amount of time I was spending on each sport every month. So this time I decided to hire a coach. There are a variety of ways to go about this along the spectrum from “get a local person to meet with you every day” to “buy Joe Friel’s The Triathlete’s Training Bible’’ and put together your own schedule with some of his suggestions (which I have done). I went in the middle and chose Mark Allen Online’s training service. I should probably do a full writeup of the service, but the short version is: it’s an online tool that helps you put together & track a workout schedule, it feels like I’m surfing a website from circa 2003, and it’s difficult to actually implement (i.e. a single swim workout had a bunch of different things to work on…what am I supposed to do? Print it out, laminate it, and put it by the side of the pool?). I signed up for three weeks of the service and didn’t touch it once. In fact, I did less exercising this month than I have in the past three. Lesson learned: this kind of ‘coaching service’ isn’t going to solve my problem. That’s useful information whose application will definitely make my life better & my training plans less wasteful. A step in the right direction.
  • Improved my workout infrastructure: a treadmill, a new battery for my HR monitor. These pieces of infrastructure are psychologically critical. One of my rewards at the end of a workout is uploading my data & seeing how much faster I’m able to go at a given heart rate (my “efficiency”). When I started getting heart rates that I knew were wrong, I was much less inclined to workout. I’m not saying that my attitude of “I won’t even be able to track my heart rate. What’s the point?” was good. I’m just saying that it existed and rather than fight it and create a whole new attitude I made sure to update my equipment so I could continue to leverage the motivation I already had. Same thing with the treadmill. With the temperature dropping fast, I’m now completely out of excuses to not run. Also, I like creating my little ‘triathlon laboratory’, my space in the house for discovering my limits & experimenting with ways to push past them.
  • Went on some fun/adventure rides & did some cross-training with friends (mud football anyone?). Even though a triathlon is three different sports, so you technically get plenty of variety in what you’re doing, it can still get boring or worse: no longer fun. So I went for a joyride with my friend Bryce. On a beautiful Sunday I took another long ride out to Raven Run, a nature sanctuary outside of Lexington, went on a run out there (it overlooks the KY River), and biked home.
  • Also, in what ended up being ideal conditions, my friends and I played a game of mud football. It was probably the most fun I’ve had in months. I love these guys!

The Book

  • Created a landing page to gauge interest & collect email addresses. I can’t recommend launchrock more highly if you have a similar need.
  • I also added a blog post about the growing problem of medical school graduates going unmatched. This means they got their MD’s but can’t actually practice medicine because they didn’t get into residency — the training you need to complete in order to legally practice medicine in the U.S….yeah, you felt bad not having a job after getting your bachelors degree.
  • Thanks for reading. I hope you found something in here that you can apply to make this month better. What did you do in October that made your life better?

Originally published at lukecmurray.tumblr.com.

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