Living Lean in 2018

The start of a new year is the perfect time to start shedding the fat in your life…and not just around your waist.

Do you ever think about how much time you waste on a given day? Now compound that into the wasted time of weeks, months and years. If you really examine the way you spend your days, it’s both astonishing and shameful.

How much of your time do you spend doing things that are productive and how much is just spent on distractions or relatively meaningless activities to which you have somehow assigned increasing (and unearned) value?

Guilty as charged. As I considered New Year’s resolutions, I thought a lot about self-improvement and how much time it would take to actually implement some of the things that will make me the person I want to be. My mind immediately defaulted to my usual excuse: I’m so busy. How can I possibly find the time to work these new habits into my life and routine?

A bit more soul-searching led me to realize that before I can implement any new habits, I first need to break a bad habit.

For years, I’ve been perpetuating a lie to myself that I am a good steward of my time.

Spoiler alert: I’m not.

So Job #1 is conducting an honest audit of my free time and figuring out why it disappears so easily and what I’m spending it on. Then I can move on to setting goals of how I actually want to spend it. Then I can make a realistic plan about how to accomplish those goals. So let’s give it a whirl. Hopefully it will be time well spent.

What are you doing?

It’s a basic question, but it’s worth asking if you’re trying to figure out how you’re wasting your time. For me, the answer is probably “looking at my phone.” Much as I hate to admit it, this device that can add so much to my life when used properly more often than not simply takes and takes.

In the past, I’ve made a concerted effort to use it less when I’m in the company of other people (to varying degrees of success), but I’ve never thought much about the importance of putting it down when it’s just me. With every swiped refresh of my social media feeds, I waste another five minutes that easily turns into 10 or 20, as a video or article intrigues me.

You could argue — and, oh, how I’ve tried — that some of this content is enriching. I’m catching up on the doings of old friends or reading about current events. While that is sometimes true, I’m more likely watching an Honest Trailer or reading something about a new movie that’s coming out.

This has gotten particularly monstrous when I’m about to go to bed and engage in what I mentally call one last check. I cycle through each of my drugs — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, work email, regular email, etc. — and willingly fall down whatever rabbit hole lies in my path. Now that I’ve switched to a Pixel, I’ve started swiping to the right to get my customized newsfeed of content — an AI-powered stream of stories that computer algorithms think I would be interested in. And am I ever!

via Wait But Why (you have to read this)

When my bloodshot eyes finally begin to bother me, I realize that I have been sitting in my darkened bedroom staring at the screen for sometimes as long as 45 minutes — wasting my precious sleep time and coming away with little more than bits of trivia that I won’t even remember by the morning. (Seriously…I have no memory of what I read last night.)

A few nights ago, I was startled awake by the sound of my one-year-old daughter crying in her room. I had completed my one last check and had been asleep for about 15 minutes. I groggily picked up my phone to check out the video baby monitor and make sure she was OK. Reassured that all was well, I couldn’t help but notice a notification and spent the next 10 minutes doing one more one last check. I have a problem.

Combined with my multitudinous social media fixes and the ensuing daytime rabbit holes, this is not an insignificant amount of time being wasted almost every single day. This has to stop.

What do you want to do?

Now comes the fun part. If you had unlimited time, what would you want to do with it? It’s frustrating that I don’t realize how much time I’m wasting until after I’ve wasted it, and I don’t think about how that time could be so easily reallocated when I wistfully ponder how busy I am and how impossible it is to accomplish some of my dreams and goals.

So what am I hoping to do? Well, I’m going to start with three wishes, Aladdin-style.

I want to exercise regularly. I want to write daily. I want to (re)learn Spanish.

Exercise has been a nearly annual New Year’s or Lenten or summer commitment, er, intention of mine for as long as I can remember. Par for the course, I eventually fall off the wagon and never seem to find the time for regular exercise, even though I have plenty of time to stay caught up on the weekly melodrama of This Is Us.

Thanks to some good genes, I’ve been blessed to be able to eat pretty much whatever I want and not worry too much about significantly tipping the scale. Thanks to my advancing age and a few bad genes, spending my days sedentarily sitting in a cube is adding to both my gut and my risk of hypertension. I’m a proud Dad, but I am in no rush to continue developing a Dad Bod or missing out on a few extra years of life because of poor health choices. It’s time for some regular exercise (and some portion control!) to help whip me into shape.

Writing is a skill and a passion that I have enjoyed from a very young age. It’s also a muscle that grows weak from disuse. Writing Instagram captions and witty tweets is a far cry from taking her to sea in a Medium-length blog post. My numerous blogging outlets have stalled recently due to my quote-unquote lack of time and my quote-unquote writer’s block. These are both excuses that I’m hoping my new time-sensitive zeal can overcome.

Brushing up on Spanish just seems like a challenging, useful idea. It would benefit me professionally to speak the language (or at least be a bit more fluent) and it would do my brain some good to be actively learning something again. Besides, maybe my one-year-old will learn to speak it with me! I started using Duolingo last January and it lasted for about a month and a half. It wasn’t that I didn’t like it, it’s just that I once again excused myself from the commitment.

Stop doing what you’re doing and do what you really want to do.

Tim Urban, the genius behind Wait But Why, wrote a thought-provoking piece on how little time you actually have left with your parents and other loved ones by the time you reach your 30s. My musings here are greatly informed by what he wrote, but I am applying his sense of urgency to self-improvement rather than relationships. Tim said:

Priorities matter. Your remaining face time with any person depends largely on where that person falls on your list of life priorities. Make sure this list is set by you — not by unconscious inertia.

I’ve realized that much of my free time is gobbled up by similar unconscious inertia — or rather a conscious decision to waste time on something that leads to unconscious inertia. I desperately need to reclaim my free time, declare my priorities and accomplish my goals.

The other aspect of all this is that I need to pursue these activities in a way that is not detrimental to my relationships and responsibilities. I am a faithful husband, father and employee. Any extracurricular self-improvement must be relegated to “me time,” and not impinge on quality time or other pressing duties of daily life.

Fortunately, I have already identified several pockets of such time in my day that could be put to more productive use: my morning and evening commutes, my lunch break at work (which I really need to take with more regularity), and any time I choose to create by staying up late or getting up early (responsibly, of course).

All that’s left is to make a realistic plan and commitment to fill this time with the activities I described above. However, I believe the success of my mission hinges more on my ability to police myself from engaging in the time-wasting activities, so I can revert to something more productive during those times. I also need to be realistic about letting myself have some mindless free time — I’m not interested in a complete fast from social media and Netflix binges.

Well, I guess I got my writing in for the day. Even if I fail at this ambitious enterprise, at least I can say that this was my most long-winded New Year’s resolution.

Here’s hoping everything else about 2018 is a whole lot leaner. And if you’re embarking on a similar journey this year, buena suerte!


A Year to Remember

Every year of your life is memorable and important in its own way, but when you’ve had a year like the 2015 that I just experienced, it’s pretty easy to see that this one stands out from the rest.

On December 31, 2014, I celebrated New Year’s Eve at my parents’ house with my three younger brothers and my wife of three months. We had just come home from a wonderful dinner at a steakhouse and finished baking our traditional batch of New Year’s Eve peanut butter cookies. My brothers and I had pulled out our old karaoke machine and were taking turns singing songs from the three karaoke CDs we own and then moved on to attempt a cappella covers of Rockapella songs. (Yes, they sang more than just the theme song to Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? and back in the day, we had a cassette of all their “hits.”)

I look back on that evening with such fondness, as it was truly the calm before the storm. Three days later, I was punched in the gut with a cancer diagnosis that would come to define the year for me.As I heard the diagnosis and fought back tears, I never would have dreamt that in the final analysis of 2015, I could look back positively on the experience and on this year. The next seven months involved surgeries and tests and doctor appointments and working from home and hospital stays and chemo treatments.

But those months also included well wishes and prayers and cards and care packages and the unending support of hundreds of people. This turned the trials and tribulations of my cancer experience into an opportunity to grow in faith and love–and a chance to learn more about myself and what I’m capable of enduring when God, family and friends have all got my back.

The second half of 2015 featured a wonderful return to normalcy, but with a renewed sense of gratitude for the awesome life I have and the abundant opportunities and blessings that continue to pile up for me.

I saw Pope Francis up close in D.C., and Pope Francis saw my Flat Francis social media campaign.I crossed Billy Joel and Harry Connick, Jr. off of my concert bucket list. The Cubs made the playoffs and I got to be at Wrigley to watch them beat the Cardinals in the NLDS. I went to Disneyland with my family and went back to Newburgh to see my wife’s family several times. I beat cancer in time to celebrate a Lumpy-free, one-year wedding anniversary. What’s not to love?

2015 was also an epic year for this blog. In 2014 I wrote 3 posts and had about 4,000 views. This year I wrote 72 posts and had more than 25,000 views.

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I can’t thank you enough for reading my posts and caring enough to follow along with my adventures and random musings. I’m a writer, and writing will always be a fun and therapeutic way for me to process my experiences, but it’s much more gratifying to know that people are reading or enjoying or learning or getting something out of what I write. Being able to share my cancer experience through this blog was great medicine for me. It meant that most people in my life didn’t need to get caught up on the details of my treatment when I saw them. And I have been incredibly flattered by the number of people well outside my circle of immediate friends and family who have taken the time to read this blog and reach out. THANK YOU!

Every year I make a New Year’s resolution, and unfortunately I usually can’t even remember what it was by the following New Year’s Eve. I hope this year is different.

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 11.51.06 AMI resolve to remember the main lesson that I learned from 2015 and to pay it forward: I want to be more mindful of all the challenges people in my life are facing and proactively reach out to them to see how I might help. I know now that a simple “How’s it going?” email can sometimes be exactly what someone needs to make it a better day. Telling someone that you will pray for them could be enough to give them a little more strength to persevere. The gift of time and attention should never be minimized.

Throughout 2015, people were going out of their way to make sure I was OK and feeling the love. I’m more than OK now, so I want to help everyone else feel the love.

Happy New Year!