Chart Your Addictions

Want to quit? Then inventory every infraction. Timestamp them into a spreadsheet. Explain to yourself why you gave in and take notes. Run SUM formulas to tally the total number of infractions per month. Never miss a beat. Make a habit out of charting your habit. Keep track of your addiction. Determine whether or not your habit is good or bad, frequent or infrequent – and monitor the change.

If your addiction is staring at you in the face all the time, one of two things will happen: you will get tired of the spreadsheet, or you will give in less frequently. Before long, you may even find yourself addiction free.

The Power of Spreadsheets and Accelerated Systems

Monotony and redundancy are not in my vocabulary. I refuse to be bored. Wasting time on repeat tasks is unacceptable. Sick of doing the same thing everyday? Optimize systems that perform repetitive tasks for you.

ExcelI worked for Lions Gate Films in 2008. Like most movie studios, they had interns manually entering box office data from Box Office Mojo to fill out research and market decks. It took between three and five hours to profile a small handful of films across international territories. Through Microsoft Excel, I crafted a formula to pull and format all of that data with a single copy and paste. Hours of work hacked down to mere seconds. To my knowledge, that spreadsheet template is still being used three years later.

No tool has earned me more reverence in the workplace than Excel. With over 340 functions and a limitless combination of formulas, Excel is one of the most robust problem-solving weapons in your software arsenal. If the problem is complicated enough and the data set large enough, I guarantee Excel has a solution.

Most people are afraid of it. Spreadsheet formulas are an abstraction of algebra, riddled with nested parenthesis, absolute and relative cell references, and a dictionary full of possible function combinations. I’ve had a cell formula 296 characters long that took me an afternoon to engineer and revise (a single extra parenthesis was breaking the whole thing!). Few people can rationalize the effort or focus that hard. But sometimes, it’s necessary. Engineer the right formula and you can save hours (or days even) on setting your computations straight. In addition to time saved, you can solve your problems with greater accuracy and ease.

Do not be afraid of Excel. Embrace the power. When you have a problem you want to solve, google Excel functions that can help you get where you need to go. I only know a dozen functions off the top of my head; I can search for the rest. Understand the fundamentals of Excel, and there will be no bounds.

People who understand spreadsheets are better situated to rule the world. Trust me: it’s worth learning. I even argue that high school math teachers should cover spreadsheet language as modern arithmetic, but that’s another post entirely.

Breaking Bad Habits 101

We all have habits we are not proud of. The first step to breaking a bad habit is being aware of it in the first place. “I bite my nails. I gamble all my money away. I eat too much candy. I need to lay off the cocaine.”

Bad Habit Log

The best way to make yourself hyper-aware of your habit is to document every infraction. Keep a log or journal of some kind. Never miss an entry. Let it haunt you.

I organize my logs with “Date,” “Time,” “Days [between infractions],” “Location,” and “Reason.”  The “Reason” part is extremely important – you must explain to yourself why you have betrayed your commitment to breaking this habit. If you do not have a good reason for betraying yourself, watch the guilt roll in. Embrace it.

Spreadsheets

I prefer spreadsheets so I can use formulas to automatically calculate time between infractions and overall averages (I use Google Docs specifically so that I can carry logs around with me wherever I go).  The “time between” formula is simple and can be copied all the way down a column:  

= ( Today’s DateLast Infraction Date ) + ( Today’s Infraction TimeLast Infraction Time )

Make it a Game

You cannot quit bad habits overnight. It takes time and realistic measurable goals. You might as well have fun with it. Challenge yourself to increasing the overall average time between infractions. Average the “Days [between infractions]” column and set a goal to reach the next full day average (for example, time between infractions is 2.3 days now, set a goal of raising that average to 3 days). If you are not too ashamed of your habit, rope a friend in to hold you accountable (betting money or meals always helps).

Documenting is much easier than breaking the habit. With enough practice, documenting becomes a new good habit. From there, the real work begins!

How to Track Your Sleep And Earn A Better Night’s Rest

The key to a higher quality life is through self assessment. To improve performance, break habits and adjust personal behavior, one must quantify his or her life with gadgets, apps and spreadsheets that help track personal trends and identify areas for improvement. I am very much on board with the Quantified Self school of thought. I maintain spreadsheets galore.

I have never been able to track my sleep in spreadsheets. Why? Well, because I am asleep.

Enter Sleep Cycle Alarm Clock. My friends Drew and Nicole introduced me to this rather handy iOS application that graphs your sleep phases. Place your iPod or iPhone on the bed next to you at night and the accelerometer will monitor your every move to determine which phase of sleep you are in. The main purpose behind the app is to wake you during your lightest sleep phase where you feel rested and relaxed (in a specified time range rather than a hard alarm time), but I have found it more useful for the sleep graphs.

Sleep Cycle Graph

Above, my graph from Friday – went to bed at 1:40am, woke up at 9:59am and slept a total of 8 hours and 19 minutes (believe it or not, college friends – I actually sleep now!).

With only a week of data, I can already see trends. I am taking notes on pre-sleep activity, successful bed times, successful waking times and more. Apparently, a glass of wine within an hour of bedtime has helped me to sleep quicker. Uh oh!

Keep track and you can unlock self improvement.