For several years now, I have been an enthusiastic practitioner of time boxing—working in fixed time intervals (time boxes) of 25 to 40 minutes, interspersed with short breaks during which I get up from my desk and do some physical activity.
Over the years, I have tweaked my time box length several times to optimize my productivity.
If I made it too short, I would interrupt work too often; if I made it too long the time box would drag on and exceed my attention span.
I also needed a shorter time box length for reading than for writing, in particular when learning complicated material.
But that also means that I might miss the alarm going off at the end of a time box. Often, I just didn’t hear it.
So I started using the vibration alarm of my Fitbit. That worked great because a brief vibration would always alert me to the end of a time box. I also didn’t disturb others with audible alarms.
Paced Time Boxing (PTB): Augmenting time boxing with intermediate reminders to pace yourself
Many fitness trackers, such as the Fitbit, have an interval timer, designed for high intensity interval training (HIIT), where you alternate between move and rest intervals.
This got me thinking:
“I could solve the problem of dealing with different time box lengths for different tasks and at the same time introduce a pace setter.”
So this is how I have been doing for a while now:
I set both the move and the rest interval in my Fitbit to 20 minutes (the maximum) to make up a time box with a total length of 40 minutes. In other words, I use both the move and the rest interval to make up a time box.
To begin a time box I start my interval timer, and it starts counting down. After 20 minutes I get two brief vibrations on my wrist.
But this first vibration alert only signals that half of my time box is over.
After sitting up, I drink water from the big bottle right in front of me.
After drinking water, I get up and make my bed.
After making my bed, I shave.
After shaving, I brew myself a cup of coffee…
This is the routine I follow every morning after waking up: It is an autopilot sequence of behaviors—“a stack of habits”—where the completion of one action triggers the start of the next one.
This routine is extremely helpful and contributes massively to my happiness and productivity every day.
It also keeps me from going off the rails and into cyberspace:
You see, I have an iPad and a smartphone sitting on my nightstand.
In the past, I have always been tempted to use them after waking up: “What is the news?” “What is going on Twitter?” “Let’s check email real quick.” More often than not, I have given in to the temptation.
The next thing I noticed was that half an hour was gone, and I was running late.
It is Saturday, June 30, 9:30 am. I just broke my fast with some cashew nuts and almonds.
This was my fourth fast, and it was a bit harder than the previous one. My hunger never completely subsided. I changed a few things that may have contributed to this experience. For more on this, please see below.
But – this fast also made me appreciate the value of food again.
I still went to coffee shops to do some reading and drink black coffee. When friends ordered food or a takeout, I felt they were so lucky they could have nice looking and clean food and eat it.
It doesn’t feel nice to be hungry and not to be able to eat when food is plenty.
Feeling hunger, I felt connected with people who don’t get enough to eat.
I had to go to bed without food for 5 nights. But I knew that after 5 days I was going to have great meals again.
I have the cash to go to the supermarket and buy stuff to my heart’s content. I was already planning the great meals I was going to have.
Other people don’t have enough resources. They often go to bed hungry without knowing when they will have a satisfying meal.
They might only have a bowl of instant noodles with some cheap oil and lots of flavor enhancers. Not too bad if eaten once in a while, but while the noodles are high on carbs, they are low on protein and contain almost no nutrients.
But then, a bag only costs 50 cents. Mind you, the almonds and cashew nuts I broke my fast with cost more than that.
I sometimes eat these noodles too, because they taste good. Or a cheap fried rice dish. But then I remind myself that apart from energy there isn’t much in there and go and get some real food.
It might be a roast with potatoes and nicely grilled vegetables. Or I might go for Sashimi or Oysters.
Some people only have a dollar a day to spend on food. If they have children, the food goes to the kids first.
Today I pity them. Sometimes, I forget.
I am a lucky bastard to have a credit card and a bank account with money to buy nutritious food.
Giving someone good food to eat is sometimes better than money. The person gets to taste the happiness that comes with eating a hearty meal. The food pulls them right out of their hunger and feeling of dissatisfaction.
During the last couple of weeks, my mind wasn’t as fluid as it used to be. Reading, writing, analyzing, whatever I did, I tired much easier.
Also, about three hours after each meal, I felt a dip in energy, which I only slowly recovered from until the next meal. I have had this before – and I interpret it as a sign that my body has a hard time changing from feeding to fasting.
It appeared to me that as soon as most of the energy from eating was used, stored in the liver, or stored as fat, I ran low on energy.
What’s more, my weight was slowly increasing, my sleep was deteriorating, and I was getting digestive problems.
I was concerned that my fatigue might be due to increasing insulin resistance
I had been feasting excessively, drinking too many beers, and maintaining an irregular sleep schedule. As a result of all this, I suspect I was becoming increasingly insulin resistant. My blood sugar values were still OK, but I clearly wasn’t doing too well.
In a nutshell, my metabolism wasn’t running smoothly, I tired easily, abdominal fat was accumulating, and I was having a hard time burning fat (as indicated by my increasing body weight).
As I mentioned, I have had this before.
I resorted to the tool that had helped me last time to do a reset: Fasting.
I wanted to press that reset button again, so I committed to a 5-day fast. At the end, I made it a 6.5-day fast. Continue reading →