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Staying in shape as a desk jockey

After the great discussion on family first on WP Tavern, along with Cory Miller talking openly about mental health I decided it’s time to write about how fitness and my work as a developer/business owner/desk jockey meld in my life.

Exercise and Mental Health

Did you know that exercising can help you feel happier? Not just better as you drop some weight and gain some strength, but exercise has the power to positively affect your mood.

One study found that 20 to 40 minutes of cardiovascular exercise yields improvements in anxiety and mood that lasts several hours. For some of us, 20 to 40 minutes are difficult to fit in. But the benefits are clear. Among other things, those who start the day with a 30-minute walk, routinely, report the following improvements[1]:

  1. Improved sleep
  2. Increased interest in sex
  3. Better endurance
  4. Stress relief
  5. Improvement in mood
  6. Increased energy and stamina
  7. Reduced tiredness that can increase mental alertness
  8. Weight reduction
  9. Reduced cholesterol and improved cardiovascular fitness

Even when you grasp all those benefits and want them, it’s hard to get out and exercise if you’re juggling work and family demands. Between sitting at our desk earning money and getting things done at home (and trying to make sure children don’t kill themselves), where do we find the time to incorporate some exercise in the day?

Tips to get some exercise

1. Build it in.

I get a daily dose of deep breathing simply by choosing to own one car and needing to get to my office. Since my wife needs the car to shuttle children around, I bike to work. A recent move reduced my commute to only 800 meters one way, but before the move it was 8 km each way.

I also end up taking a walk at lunch or I do some errands after work on my way home. The choice to have one car and commute by bike means a guaranteed daily endorphin release.

2. Date your partner or get a friend to join.

There are two ladies that work in the same building as me, and four mornings a week you see them out walking for 30 minutes before work. I’ve asked each of them about their routine, and they both say that if the other one didn’t come they wouldn’t go. On rainy bad days they both admit to being tempted to skip the walk but they don’t want to disappoint each other so they still get up and go.

My mother-in-law and father in-law walk together every night. In that scenario I admit that he drives it, but she always says that ultimately she’s glad he does because she wouldn’t get out on her own. Her partner makes her go, which she appreciates…at least later.

The point is to find someone or a group that you want to meet. If I miss a morning at CrossFit I get notes asking where I am and if I’m sick. It’s those people that motivate me get out of bed when I’m tired and am tempted to stay in bed.

3. Get cheerleaders.

Okay, maybe your spouse/partner is not going to go with you, and for some reason you live in a town with no one who walks. Seriously, you’re the only person with legs.

I’m going to assume that this town-wide leg issue doesn’t extend to the mouths of these legless people. Therefore I suggest you get your spouse/partner/friend to simply prompt you about running/walking/exercising regularly.

My friend has me doing this for him. His wife really isn’t into working out and she simply forgets to ask him about it. So I text him every other day and ask if he’s working out that day.

He’s said that without my text messages he’d miss lots of days.

Who can do that for you?

4. Find your time.

What times work best for you to get out for some activity? Is it 5:45 a.m. like it is for my wife and me? Do you prefer an hour break in the middle of the day to get your sweat on? How about just before dinner or after dinner?

If you’re answer is “I don’t know” then it’s time to try some things out and see what times work best for you.

And, don’t forget to get your stuff out the day before. It’s way to easy to stay in bed if you have the added tasks of getting out your clothes, finding your shoes and making a quick snack. Dealing with all those barriers the day before is going to increase the likelihood that you get out.

5. Get sleep.

Oh sure I ‘know’ you love the all-nighters. You may love them, but they’re hurting you for days and weeks after. Getting a full 7-9 hours of sleep each night is going to help you with your motivation. Looking at some exercise when you’ve got a full night’s sleep is way easier than when you’re in zombie mode.

At my house that means all the adults go to bed at 9:30 p.m. since one of us is getting up at 5 a.m. every day of the week.

How do you make sure you get some healthy movement in each day?

photo credit: icedsoul cc

Play the big game with your life sentence

People playing a big game don’t have time for a small game – Dan Sullivan

Dan talks about this in reference to people you see name calling and back biting and diving in to guilt. Their game is so small that it includes these things. If you’re playing a bigger game then these things don’t even register as something you do in your game.

Being an entrepreneur is a life sentence – Dan Sullivan

Once you get a taste for it you’re going to have a hard time going back to any job. I got my first taste of it when I started installing decks on the weekends and did it full-time during the week. The freedom and greater income I could earn on the weekend was totally worth it and while I knew that was not what I wanted to have a business doing, I knew I wanted to run my own business.

The Difference Between Discipline and Habits

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Giving freedom to employees

Have you ever been disappointed by an employee? Don’t have employees? How about a friend or spouse — have they disappointed you?

Has an employee, or a helper, said they’d do something for you but then just not done it the right way?

Yup, that’s totally frustrating, but in spite of your expectations, you should still be giving people the freedom to accomplish a task their way.

My personal and professional experience is that if you give people freedom, they will surprise, delight, and amaze you. They will also sometimes disappoint you, but if we were perfect we wouldn’t be human. This isn’t an indictment of freedom. It’s just one of the trade-offs. – Work Rules

The ability — or freedom — to fail always accompanies a high level of personal freedom. Failure is going to happen, and failure should not be a reason for denying freedom. When an employee fails while attempting to surprise, delight and amaze you, your reaction should not be to suddenly take away their autonomy.

In fact, removing freedom is more likely to backfire. Those employees will resent you if you treat them like children.

Give people slightly more trust, freedom, and authority than you are comfortable giving them. If you’re not nervous, you haven’t given them enough. – Work Rules

When it comes time to give people freedom, go a bit further than you think you should. The only way you’re going to get those amazing results you dream of is to give people the freedom to create them.

photo credit: kwl cc

[246_365] Flying Machine-5694331880

Habit or Inspiration?

Is it better to work by habit or by inspiration? Notice I didn’t ask which approach sounds like more fun, because then the answer would be obvious — working when you’re inspired is the answer if you’re looking for ‘fun’.

I’m not looking for fun though, and if you want to run a solid, long-lasting business you shouldn’t be looking for fun either. You should be looking for results. If you stay focused on results, then habits trump inspiration every time.

If you want to start blogging, then make it a habit to set aside time every week, or every day, to write. That habit will get you toward your goal. If you simply wait to be inspired to write, it’s inevitable that at some point your publish day will arrive, but you weren’t inspired to write anything. Lacking inspiration, you’ll decide it’s okay to miss a day. Then you’ll miss another day, and another. Pretty soon, not blogging becomes your habit.

Some of my most popular posts were the hardest to write and many never really felt like they were done — or good enough to publish. But it seems you all loved them anyway, so they were a success. They were products of habit, not inspiration.

If you’re like me you’ve got a bunch of things you’d like to do regularly, but the reality is you simply don’t have enough time to be awesome at guitar, learn to paint, make furniture, and run your business. Don’t try to do it all, pick the most important things and turn them into a habit. Reap the rewards of that habit, and as your time frees up start developing a new habit.

photo credit: pasukaru76 cc

Even the Dark Side needs motivation-4764667152

Inspiring Employees is not Cheerleading

We all want employees who are excited to come to work. We want them to be inspired to give us and our clients their best work. To forge new ground and make our clients happier than they’ve ever been about doing business with a company like ours.

How do you get employees to that stage, though? How do you lead employees so that you’re helping them grow to be more than they were when they joined your company?

Tough Love

Have you seen Coach Carter? If not then you’ve surely seen movies with a similar plot.

Coach Carter is a movie about a coach who takes over the basketball team at his old high school, located in a bad part of town. Statistically speaking, most members of the team are destined for either jail or an early grave. The graduation rate among the players is low, and boy are they bad at basketball.

In the movie Coach Carter steps in and immediately raises expectations — asking more from his team than anyone has ever expected from them. He wants them to not only learn to play basketball well, he wants them to do well in school. It would be sad for them to look back on a high school basketball year and have it end up being the ‘best’ year of their life.

He sets high expectations and holds them accountable. At one point in the story, he locks his players out of the gym when they don’t meet the academic standards he’s imposed.

He does this because he loves them, and this is a situation where soft love won’t work. In fact, whether you’re dealing with troubled teens in a bad neighborhood or normal kids in a safe suburb, when training and teaching, the best kind of love is often tough love.

Do you have that type of love for your employees? Can you set boundaries and hold them accountable to them? I’m not talking edicts around profit and butt-in-chair time, but real goals that focus on results that you let them set.

You’re not a cheerleader (though you should be praising your employees) — you’re a coach. You’re the leader. You’re there to make them into a better version of themselves which means being tough sometimes.


How much does freedom affect the quality of your employees? Turns out that freedom is one of the biggest things that the truly good people look for in a quality job today.

They want to set their own goals and figure out when they work the best. They want to be judged based on results, not butt-in-chair time. But don’t just set goals for them and expect them to dive in with smiles — get your employees to join you in setting the goals. Let them know the overall direction of the company and the goals of your department (which they should have had a hand in building) then get them to put together individual goals that contribute to department goals, and the overall goals of your company.

Once they have their goals, give them freedom to figure out how to accomplish them best. Don’t track the time it takes, track the results. If they hit their goals then they did an awesome job and you should celebrate that.

Giving employees some tough love and freedom will go a long way in building a business where you don’t take on the role of a hall monitor. That’s not how you should be spending your time. As a business owner you have a whole host of other awesome gifts that you should be exercising instead of just monitoring butt-in-chair time.

photo credit: kwl cc

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Pacing your time off

As I sit here late at night after a five-day canoe trip I’m reminded of a whitewater kayaking trip I took to Mexico years ago. Yes, the paddling was awesome, and we went off about 50 waterfalls in eight days (45 of them on one river) but what I’m reminded of right now is the pace at which we traveled.

Our days in the boats were frenetic. Up early to eat quickly, then board a bus for a long ride and five hours on the river, to be back just in time for dinner.

But the part that stands out in my memory is our decision to show up one day early and stay one day late. Unlike most of the other people on the trip we didn’t fly out the day the guided portion of the trip ended, or early the next morning. We had a whole day after kayaking to … do nothing, or everything … basically we could do just what we wanted.

At the start of our trip, we walked around and sat outside drinking beer in Mexico. At the end of the trip we took a long walk, visited a local aquarium and mall, and found an outdoor market tucked away behind buildings.

Those two days stick out because they made the whole trip feel relaxed, and I think of them now because I don’t have that day of decompression after five days in the back country. As I write this, tomorrow is directly back into client work with expectations high and items that need to get checked off my task list.

That’s a mistake on my part. One I’m planning to not make again. From now on if I’m off for more than two days I’m planning a day at the end with … nothing planned. Sit around the house, grab a coffee with my family and just relax after rushing around having ‘fun’ for the days allotted.

Do you plan those rest days after vacation? What about getting to a conference a day early with no plans? When are you going to try it?

photo credit: wiredforsound23 cc

Marginal Gains

You’re going to hit a plateau in your business where it stays about the same for a while. The only way to get through it is to just keep going. Keep trying new little things, even if each thing only improves your business 1% that still 15% when you find 15 things.

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‘Backstabbing’ and the CC rule

I’ve talked before about how toxic gossip is to your organization. You just shouldn’t let it into your organization at all. It’s poison that will kill your teams.

While reading Work Rules! ( I came across this great approach, used by Google, for dealing with employees who complain or gossip about other employees.

The way we solve the “backstabbing” problem, for example, is that if you write a nasty email about someone, you shouldn’t be surprised if they are added to the email thread. – Work Rules!

How would your organization change if instead of just talking behind people’s backs about things they were brought into the discussion right away?

What if the problems between people just got solved and you didn’t have to intervene all the time?

How much more real work could get done?

photo credit: s3a cc

Emmet Reading - big book

August 2015 Reading

Predictable Revenue

We all want predictable revenue, right? We want to know that if we get five qualified leads we can turn two of those into paying customers that are worth $XX over time.

We want to have a process to qualify leads for our business and move them down that sales funnel.

If you’re looking to develop that process then this is a decent book to read. I say ‘decent’ because at times the book feels more like a ‘sales’ book for (which was where this sales process was developed, though the author is no longer employed there).

My favourite points were around how to nurture and qualify leads. It’s important not to just ABC (always be selling) but to ruthlessly qualify the leads that come in. You don’t have five ‘best’ leads — you have five, maybe ten, that you should be working on and the rest are a waste of your time.

I feel that this book is better for larger organizations with a dedicated sales team. Smaller businesses like mine (which is just me) can benefit from the discussion about process, and cutting leads so you only focus on the ‘best’ ones. However, some of the tips will be difficult to implement as a one-man operation, or even a business with only a few team members.

The Mistborn Trilogy

After finishing The Dark Tower series last month I was looking for some new fiction. Brian Krogsgard recommended this series and I’m glad he did.

This series starts out in a world where there is an ‘evil’ emperor who oppresses most of the people. He has the power of allomancy, which means he can burn different metals he’s ingested to gain new powers (like extra strength). Now there are others — the Mistborn — who possess the power of allomancy (Mistings, though, can only burn one metal), but The Lord Emperor is about 1,000 times more powerful than them.

The first book in the trilogy is all about a crew of thieves trying to overthrow this hugely powerful man to free their people. They suffer many setbacks but do eventually accomplish their goal, though it does have many unintended consequences.

The second book is all about trying to put a reasonable government back together in the midst of many kings trying to become the new Emperor. There are also many changes happening to the world. The ash mounts are spewing forth more ash, making the crops harder to grow. The mists are killing people, and very little seems to be getting better.

The people are looking for the Hero of Ages who will take up the power of the Well of Ascension and ‘fix’ everything. The only thing is, no one knows where the well is.

The third book is all about the world going to hell in a hand basket. When the Well of Ascension was finally found, ‘something’ got out and it’s accelerating the ruin of the world. More ash and lava are overtaking the land, and the mist keeps getting thicker, cutting off the sunlight needed to grow crops.

Add armies and rampaging monsters called Koloss, and ‘skin changers’ called Kandra, and it seems the deeper we dig we find The Lord Emperor had an impossible task to do and really planned ahead for a world he loved.

Of course, as in most books, the question is not will the ‘hero’ actually win out over the villain. Of course he will, but in this story the big question is: Who really is the Hero of the Ages?

The deeper you get into the series the more layers you peel back — and you begin to understand the whole makeup of the world and how the evil force (Ruin) has been pushing even the main heroes of the story to do his bidding.

I thoroughly enjoyed this series and will certainly come back and read it again.

Crazy for the Storm

This is a story about two survivals. The first and big flashy survival is that of a 12-year-old boy surviving a plane crash on a snow covered mountain. In this survival he fights off the elements and uses the skills his father has taught him — skiing and surfing, and running from Federals to overcome a physical challenge that would have killed many of his peers.

Layered in that survival story is the story of how that same young boy survived his mother’s abusive boyfriend and how he deals with the death of his father in the plane crash that left him alone and battling the elements. While he fights the physical elements, he faces the emotional challenges by again using the skills his father taught him — namely, experiencing joy for the storm. That calm in the waves and the peace it brings him.

I can totally understand that peace every time I’m out on a mountain watching a sunrise, or even when it’s pouring rain/hail/snow and I’m having the time of my life in the terrible weather.

One of the most poignant paragraphs for me comes right at the end of the book:

I had a pretty good idea of how Noah felt hovering over the lip of the gully. Having been in similar situations at nearly the same age, I understood that he just didn’t want to be scared, didn’t want to feel all that tension in his body, no matter what the payoff might be. He wanted to have effortless fun – Crazy for the Storm (emphasis mine)

Really isn’t that what we all want — effortless fun? Maybe if I put it another way, effortless reward, you’ll see more of yourself in it. But this is not a book about effortless fun or effortless reward. It’s a book about a father teaching his son that the greatest reward comes when you’ve put in the greatest effort.

This is a well written book that I very much enjoyed.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet

So, I’ve heard of Felicia Day before. I recognize her as some famous person and I know enough not to confuse her with Emily Blunt. I had a vague idea that she was into video games and had a web video show called The Guild. But before I read this book, that was the extent of my knowledge about Felicia Day.

Now one thing that always strikes me as funny is when a young person writes a memoir. I mean, you’ve got what — like ten years out of your parents’ house to get ‘wise’ and it’s time to write a memoir of your life? Sure, a memoir seems appropriate at age 60, 70, or 80 — but 30? Anyway, getting past that, this book is very quirky. Felicia Day is regularly self-deprecating as she wonders why you’d even read her book. That threw me off a bit since, why on earth would you write a book you figured no sane person should read?

Getting past that, this was an interesting look at how she got in on the ground floor of web video series at YouTube. Now everyone is trying to get some web show that hits it big so they can be famous, but when she did it, the concept was something totally new and she dove in just because she had a story she simply couldn’t not tell.

One of my favourite parts of the book is when she talks openly about dealing with depression. This is a topic that so many avoid and are ashamed of despite the fact that almost every person will go through some sort of depression in their life. Felicia talks about it openly and I could feel the struggle as she described trying to do almost anything — even care for herself. For that reason alone you should read this book.


Travel is alluring to so many, myself included. Many of us dream of experiencing other cultures and sitting in cafes in exotic places, chatting with a friend for hours, with no attachments. Vagabonding doesn’t quite shatter that dream, but puts it in a more realistic context.

It starts with the idea that your trip truly starts and is truly earned with the work you do up front to make it happen. Those extra hours at the office, the things you don’t purchase so you can save more. All that sacrifice makes the journey better.

After that, Vagabonding talks little about specifics of any particular geographical area and much about the general philosophy required to have a great trip wherever you go.

My only warning to those reading this and dreaming of travelling is that it may make being at work now even harder. You’ll read this and want to travel now, not wait. The book will prepare you and make the call stronger at the same time.

The Way of Kings (The Stormlight Archive, Book 1)

At the beginning of the month I finished The Mistborn Trilogy by Brandon Sanderson and that led me right into a second book by the same author (based on the recommendations at the end of my Kindle book).

The Way of Kings is another fantasy series with kings, and high princes, and war and slaves and mystical/magic powers. I actually found the book a bit confusing at first as it introduces us to a few soldiers just after a battle and then jumps us to the ‘present’ and an entirely new set of characters. It was only right near the end that I realized the soldiers introduced at the beginning were likely The Heralds spoken of throughout the book.

I found the characters engaging and the struggles real. I couldn’t put the book down at times, much to the chagrin of my children. I highly recommend this for lovers of medieval fantasy books. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Daily Rituals

What are the daily rituals of successful artists or writers or thinkers? I’m always interested in how others work, and how other people accomplish tasks. This book is right up my alley, and if you share the same interest, this is a book for you as well.

Daily Rituals reveals 161 routines of people you’ve likely heard of, like Franz Kafka or Bach. The thing that stuck out to me reading the book is how much leisure many of these creatives factored into their day. Now many of them may not have considered it leisure since they were out wrestling with their creative demons while walking the mountains, but really, so many of them spent copious amounts of time walking, or sitting in the pub drinking a pint, or sitting in a cafe sipping on coffee and observing the people around them.

It seems to me that we can learn something here.

Daily Rituals is very well researched and plain old entertaining, albeit light (as in none) on tips for applying the routines of others to your own life.

Still a recommended quick read in my opinion.

Words of Radiance (The Stormlight Archive, Book 2)

In this second installment in the Stormlight Archive we pick up directly where our first book left off. No time skipped, just straight into the former slaves trying to figure out how to be good King’s Guards.

The best part for me was watching Kaladin struggle with his hate of the ‘lighteyes’ (ruling class based on eye colour) as he is supposed to guard them and even sacrifice his life for them. Not just the ones he likes either, since he doesn’t particularly like the king, or think he’s a good king.

This struggle is what really brings the character alive for me, and as he works through it he becomes a better man.

I enjoyed the second installment of this series enough that I was sad when I realized that Book 3 hasn’t been released yet. Otherwise, I would have bought it right away.

That’s it for my August 2015 reading list. Stay tuned next month for my September update.


A 4-year-old at the aquarium

A while ago my family went to the Vancouver Aquarium and a good time was had by all — even our 1-year-old, who loved the sea otters and the tanks of huge jellyfish.

The only frustrating part for the adults was the way my 4-year-old wanted to see everything, which mostly involved running up to a tank, taking a 30-second look, then running off to the next thing. She wasn’t super interested in learning about how the fish lived or what they ate unless it was done by way of a demonstration.

We’d call her back to focus on something longer than 30 seconds, and she’d say:

I already saw that!

It strikes me that so many of us do life that way. We take a 30-second glance at something new and then dismiss it because it didn’t instantly capture our attention.

Some try a diet for two weeks and don’t see instant results so they stop. They try eating in moderation with a bit of exercise, but don’t have the focus or patience to wait for the results. Consequently, they head back to one of the many popular starve-yourself diets that inevitably results in more weight gain, since we all know you can’t maintain starvation as a way of life.

True mastery only comes from long-term practice in your profession. Yet so many never even make it to the point of basic proficiency because the mental picture they had of themselves was so much better than where they currently are. They quit in frustration though they’ve never put in the time to really develop the skill they envision.

Let’s not be those people that quit. Let’s stick to our diets or exercise routines or writing habits or daily…whatevers.

photo credit: dgconsulting cc

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Curtis McHale

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