Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Rethink Screen Time In Terms of 3Cs: Consumption, Creation and Connection

Yesterday I was listening to the latest podcast episode of The Happiness Lab: good screens and bad screens. This episode features guest Catherine Price, the author of How to Break up with Your Phone.

She provided some good tips on how to make the best of screen time during the pandemic, as we're all hunkered down and reduced to screens for work and communication.

Catherine also mentions how she thinks about her screen time. She thinks of it as 3 Cs: Consumption, Creation and Connection.

This is intriguing to me.

I can't help but wonder what the percentage of my screen time goes to each of the C. It's evident most of my time is in consumption: reading news, blog articles, watching Netflix/YouTube/AmazonPrime, and surfing Chinese-language forum, taking online courses, and checking Instagram feed (as mentioned in a previous post, I deleted Facebook in 2013 and never looked back, though I still kept Instagram and Twitter).

Next, Connection. Catherine didn't define what she meant by connection. I assume it's using the phone to connect with other people. It probably includes text messages, phone calls, FaceTime chat, email, etc. Catching up with acquaintances on Facebook also counts, in my opinion. I spend maybe a couple hours a day on Connection, between texting my friends, video chatting with my family in China, and emailing with my professional connections.

The last bucket: creation. This is what gets me thinking. I always feel some sort of imbalance in the way I use the Internet. It's hard to articulate. Just feel like something is missing and not quite right. Then it dawned on me yesterday that it's the lack of using screen time for creation. Some people might never feel need to create. But with the amount of input I take in everyday, I felt a genuine desire to share out my perspective with others. Creation can take so many different formats: blogging, podcasting, exchanging view points on forum, etc.

The thing with using the smartphone is that it's a great device for consumption, but no for creation. At least it's hard for me to compose a blog post or anything meaningful on the small screen.

I might spend the new few days brainstorming a few screen time creation ideas and share back!

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Weekly Recap - 4/13/2020-4/19/2020

Officially I'm entering 39 weeks of pregnancy. The end is in sight. I certainly have mixed feelings about this. For the last week or so, friends and families have been checking in to see if the baby arrives. Folks are especially concerned because of the COVID-19 pandemic and worried the hospital would be overrun. Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case in the hospital I'll deliver at. The only new restriction is they only allow one visitor in the maternity ward (aka my husband), and we can not leave the place after being admitted.

This week again went by fast. I continue to appreciate having a few routine tasks to structure my day. So everyday I:

  • Walk 10,000 steps or exercise to close the Move ring on my apple watch. Most of the walk is done on my treadmill. The weather seems to be either too cold or rainy for an outside stroll. 
  • Read WSJ. I subscribed the the print edition of WSJ using my American Airlines mileage (not that I'll be able to use mileage for travel any time soon...). I was able to download a PDF version on my Surface Pro so I read the newspaper while walking on treadmill. The coverage is mostly on COVID-19 so it gets a little overwhelming sometime. This is my daily dose of news and prevents me from refreshing news sites every hour.
  • Meditate for a few minutes at night. I got into the habit of meditating right after I brush my teeth at night. This behavior is inspired by the book Tiny Habit. According to the author BJ Fogg, there are 3 components to a habit: motivation, ability, and prompt. I interpret prompt as the cue that triggers a behavior. For example, you fasten the seat belt right after getting in the car. It's a powerful yet often underestimated tool for developing habit. So I use "brushing my teeth" as a prompt to develop the meditation habit. I brush my teeth everyday, and I'm usually by myself in the bedroom. So time and place-wise, it's perfect to mediate for a few minutes. Another key point I learned from the book is start small, REALLY small. So I started with one minute of meditation. Eventually I worked up to 8 minutes. Sometimes I only do 5 minutes. But the key is to DO the behavior consistently. Now I'm proud to say I'm on a 20 day streak of meditation!
  • Try to do one different activity to add variety to the day. Yesterday I baked a banana cake. The other day I was making a photo album on Shutterfly's app. Though everyday routine provides structure, variety keeps mind fresh.
  • Read. Right now I'm reading the historic fiction Fall of Giants by Ken Follett. It's a thick book of more than 800 pages. The book is so gripping that I'm working through it quickly on my Kindle. The library is closed during the pandemic. I do miss the feeling of real books. But Kindle version is logically the preferred choice for affordability, portability and hygiene reasons...
So that's the weekly recap. An exciting week ahead awaiting. Amid the enormous uncertainty of COVID-19, I'm mostly wondering when the baby is ready to meet the world. It's normal to wonder I guess. I also know I will probably miss all these quiet moments once the baby arrives. 


Sunday, April 12, 2020

Thoughts This Week

So here goes the second week of the maternity leave, before the baby gets here. A rather productive week that I accomplish:
  • Daily practice of Jordan Harbinger's 6 mins networking course. It's a simple exercise of reaching out people I haven't spoken in a while. In the last two weeks, I spoke to a few acquaintances that I lost touch with in the last 2 years. It's really a great feeling to say hi and learn about what they're up to. There are other exercises in his course, such as reaching out to a person you don't know but admire. That's going to be my goal for next week.
  • We packed hospital bags, a second time. I packed some stuff during week 1. But now we learned we can't leave the maternity ward after being admitted (due to the COVID-19 pandemic), we need to bring more backup stuffs. So we ended up packing two suitcases (one check-in size and one carry-on), and two duffel bags. 
  • I mediate every single day. I downloaded this app called "Insight". It's a free app offering lots of great guided meditation. Meditation is something I always wanted to pick up. Tried a few times but never make it a habit. Thanks to this app, I've been meditating (though as little as 2 or 5 mins) for 12 days in a streak. I couldn't say I see a clear benefit yet - I'm on leave so my stress level is pretty low to start with. But I start to enjoy the serenity and peacefulness it brings. My goal is to gradually increase the length of each meditation session. 
  • I continue to read books. This week I finished "Tiny Habit" and will be finishing "Pachinko". Both books are great reads. "Tiny Habits" is about how to scientifically develop good habits and get rid bad ones. Some of the ideas are very novel. For example, the author suggests you start "very small" so you could start the behavior with little to no resistance. He gave the example of flossing one tooth to start the habit of flossing daily. "Pachinko" by Min Jin Lee, on the other hand, is a historical novel following a Korean family who eventually migrates to Japan. I learned a lot about Japanese and Korean culture. The storytelling is captivating.
Also, friends and families have started to check in on me as I'm getting closer to my due date. No news just yet. We'll see when the little one will be ready to meet the world!

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

37 Week Prenatal Appointment & Random Thoughts

Today I went to my 37 week prenatal check up. Unlike two weeks ago when visitors were still allowed, there was a notice on my doctor's office that only allows the patient herself to go in. So my husband waited for me in the lobby area. It was a quick appointment so it's fine.

At the same time, all providers and staff members are wearing face masks. I'm all for these precautions for the safety of both healthcare workers and patients alike.

Now it's really the countdown. Hospital bags are packed. Doylestown Hospital, where I'll be delivering, still allows the partner in the maternity ward. But he couldn't go in and out. Once we get there, we probably wouldn't be able to leave till the baby gets here. So we decided to pack some extra stuff to bring to the hospital, just in case.

I'm supposed to do the 30mins Machine Learning course right now. But definitely experiencing the afternoon slump so couldn't really focus. So I decided to push that to tomorrow and write this post instead!

I tried to follow a routine everyday but flexibility is always a possibility:)

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Weekly Recap - First Week of Maternity Leave During Social Distancing

The past week was the first week of my maternity leave. I'm super grateful to be provided with a couple weeks' of downtime before the baby comes. Secretly, I am worried about how I would handle it - I'm so used to a fast-paced work schedule, especially after the last two years working on a highly visible project. 

Now one week into my break, I'm happy to announce it's going well so far. Reflecting on this past week a little, here's what I've done:

1. Develop and stick to a new routine. 

Now that I'm on maternity leave, I no longer have to wake up at 6am to fit in a quick 30 mins workout before heading out to work (of course, this was before social distancing and WFH kicked in). But I find it essential to develop a routine/schedule everyday and try to abide by it. It gives the day a bit of structure.

Usually I would wake up before 9am (what a luxury - trying to squeeze in the last bit of sleep before the baby comes). The morning is usually spent on taking some online courses / doing some exercises, while the afternoon is for reading newspaper, going for a walk (outside if it's a sunny day, or on the treadmill if it's not), getting baby stuff ready, and preparing dinner. 

2. Doing something mentally challenging everyday.

It's still important to keep the mind sharp even I'm not really "working". I've been taking the Stanford University's Machine Learning class on Coursera. I like it because it's wildly different from the brand management/marketing I do at work. Machine learning taps into lots of math and calculus. I've been good at Math, but haven't really studied any math since graduating from high school! That's probably why I find the class quite refreshing and interesting. Your mind needs variety and change. Plus, understanding basic machine learning algorithm will prepare myself for the new age of artificial intelligence.

In addition, I started the 6 Minute Networking course from Jordan Harbinger. One of my developmental areas is networking. I find this class very well designed and action-oriented. Most importantly, it feels genuine and authentic. It's simply about reaching out to folks I haven't spoken to in a while. I've reconnected with several people that I haven't been in touch with for a long time and it's good to catch up (especially during this unprecedented time!)

3. Keep up the exercise.

Since I'm in my 3rd trimester, I can only do some simple exercises, and not for an extended period of long time. I do three 30-mins exercise / movement every day. One in the morning - which is usually a bit more intense (though my heartrate doesn't really go over 140...), such as elliptical where I get my heart rate up slightly. Then two 30mins sessions in the afternoon and evening, usually 1-2 hours after the meal. For these sessions, I simply walk on the treadmill at a slight incline, while reading the newspaper or watch some TV shows. The walking sessions don't really count towards "exercise". They simply supplement the more sedentary lifestyle we're unfortunately reduced to while staying home all day. Of course, I feel incredibly lucky to have both the time and resources to do this (we have both elliptical and treadmill in our basement - bought them at a discount and got so much use out of it!). 

But thanks to constantly moving around, I have good energy throughout the day and am able to almost close my Move ring on my apple watch everyday! 

Will check back next week to see how things are rolling!


Sunday, March 29, 2020

#ConsumerObsessed Brands during COVID-19

As brand marketers, we talk a lot about consumer-first or consumer obsession. Under the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly all brands take a new look at their campaigns and advertising, to ensure they are still relevant. Among some of the brands I use, two of them really stand out for their efforts of customers first: ClassPass and Snoo.

ClassPass
I've been using ClassPass for two years. It allows me to try different studios and workout classes without getting a membership at a particular one. I like the variety and flexibility it offers, even though there are not too many options where I live. Because of my pregnancy, I've already switched to a light plan: 4 new credits per month for $10. 

Even before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, I knew I wouldn't risk going out to classes anymore. So I was wondering what I'm going to do with my account. Before I even take any actions or reach out to their customer service. I got this email from their CEO. The company has offered 1) roll over all unused credits instead of the standard policy of rolling over a maximum 10 credits, 2) the ability to pause the account. 

Both of the measures give tangible, important benefits to its consumers, even before they reach out! Now that is #ConsumerObsessed!
Snoo
We decided to buy a Snoo for our baby. It's the only splurge we've done so far. Snoo comes with a 30-day free trial and scheduled shipping. Originally, we asked them to ship at the end of March so we'll have time to set it up and be ready before my due date. Last week, we received an email from them:

The email notifies us that they decided to ship the Snoo one week earlier than the scheduled date, to ensure it gets delivered in time due to the current circumstances. It also clearly states that they will not count this one week towards the 30 day free trial period. Again, fantastic customer-centric decisions.

For the last months or so, I received so many emails from brands about COVID-19 updates. ClassPass and Snoo truly stands out for their customer-first approach and excellent execution. Look forward to seeing more brands deliver on their customer-focused mission.


Saturday, March 28, 2020

What I am grateful for during the coronavirus pandemic

I see myself a lucky one during this unprecedented time. Here is why.

1. My family and friends are largely safe and well.
My family back in China was under lockdown for 2 months since the Chinese New Year. My grandma is 80+ years old so I was quite worried about her. My parents are almost 60. Fortunately they are all okay now it seems the worst of Coronavirus has passed for China. On the U.S. side, most of my friends and co-workers are able to work from home and hopefully they will stay safe and well.

2. I still have a job that allows me to work from home.
While millions have lost their job and filed for unemployment, I felt incredibly lucky that not only do I still have a good job, most of my work can be done remotely. Consumer healthcare sector doesn't seem to suffer much from the economic impact in the short term. My team is super supportive of everyone during this special time.

3. I have a supporting spouse to weather this through together.
Because I'm 9 months pregnant, I've taken the social distancing one step further and never really left the house, except for taking a walk outside in our community. Therefore, my husband has been doing all the grocery shopping. He's taken extra cautions when he brings back any outside items. Wiping them all down, throwing out the packaging and bags, etc. Never going out also meant no dining out or even takeout. Both of us cook a lot more (and getting better at it!).

This shall pass. All we need to remind ourselves is there is light at the end of the tunnel. Just take one day at a time.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Experimenting with Email to Boost Productivity

Last week, I decided to further improve how I handle my work emails. After trying different things and daily reflection, here's what I found:
  • To minimize distractions from emails, finish MIT #1 first thing in the morning before even looking at my emails. That fresh mind early in the morning is just too precious to waste on emails!
  • Rethink how I define email productivity. The mistake we all tend to make is using how fast you tackle your emails as the success metric. And that is wrong. Email, in its essence, is a tool. The goal is to tackle a work issue in an effective manner, not to processing email in a speedy fashion. Therefore, before hitting reply button, I ask myself, what am I trying to achieve here? Is there a better way to do it? Can I reach out via Skype? Can I walk over to that person's desk? Can I maybe batch several topics to discuss with her in our next 1:1?
  • Finally, this one takes me a few days to realize. I was so determined not to let emails take over my time, so I purposely ignore the dozens of unread emails. This creates lots of mental stress. What I could have done, is just to sit down and spend an hour or two going through them. 
After this week's little experiment, I certainly feel more in control of emails. But it's a progress. I will continue to observe what best works for me and use emails more effectively to boost work productivity.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Solitude

Today I finished "Lead Yourself First", a book I marked as "want to read" in 2018 but never got to it. 

Cal Newport mentioned it in a podcast and I'm so glad I read it. 

The main idea is, solitude, defined as being "isolated from input from other minds, working through a problem on its own", is essential for leaders to thrive. It generates clarity, analytical clarity, creativity, and help with emotional balance. 

The idea is extremely resonating. Thanks to social media and smartphone, solitude can be easily gotten rid of nowaways. You can put on podcasts for long car rides (which I do every day). Check your Instagram feed while waiting in line for your Starbucks coffee. I sometimes even play news podcast while in shower, although I can't even hear it very well. It's good to have some background noise. I rarely have moment of real solitude - alone with my thoughts.

However, I get my best ideas in solitude. The best example is plane and train ride. I used to fly quite a bit for work at my last job. I love those plane ride where I'm free from Internet and distractions. For my current job, once in a while I take the NJ transit train to New York. It's one hour ride. When I have a clear business problem to solve, this one-hour ride is my most productive time. I took a piece of paper, a pen in hand, and just start writing. What's the situation, the challenge, and what the options are. Maybe it's the rocking motion of the train, I can always make significant progress thinking through the problem. No email, no phone call, no distractions.

The book inspires a few actions to create more solitude, and use them for a more fulfilling work/personal life:

  • Create a list of deep work worthy personal/business problems to think through during solitude: I already started capturing some big challenges at work/in personal time that need more clarity/creative solution. So next time for a long car ride, instead of turning on my podcast, I'll devote that hour to just thinking through the problem. To quote the book, it's an important leadership skill:"Among the most valuable functions a leader can perform is hard thinking about complex problems: identifying the problem precisely, making the premises of his thought explicit, and then examining each link in his logical chain—ideally all done on a notepad." 

  • Create solitude especially for big decisions, or when emotional stake is high: for me, especially the latter one. When something upsetting happens (at work), the emotion I feel seems overwhelming. I tend to imagine the worst case scenario and ruminate. A good step is to step away from the situation, take a walk alone, meditate, and focus your mind on something else. It's better to come back after some quiet time, instead of getting caught up in the emotion. Another good tactic I learned from this book, is to write a letter to the person you're upset with, and never send it - a tactic Abraham Lincoln deployed. 

Friday, February 21, 2020

What Makes a Productive Day for Me?

Overall, I'm a very productive person. For the last two years, I've been working on a highly visible project at work. It's super fast-paced, high pressure, and my responsibilities expand and evolve as I demonstrated my competencies in handling them. 

With that, I constantly think about time management, productivity, how to focus, how to strike work/life balance, etc. I noticed there are days that feel more right than the others: I can focus on the most important tasks, think clearly, juggle multiple deadlines, yet don't feel very stressed. 

On the other hand, I've had days when everything seem urgent, my to-do list is too long, I have a hard time focusing on one tasks, keep getting interrupted. As a result, stress level is super high. So I decided to pay even closer attention to how I work and figure out what makes a productive day FOR ME.

Here's a couple things I uncover:
  • I start the day knowing my MIT (most important task): So instead of jumping into performing a task, I spent a few minutes (no longer than 10) either reviewing what I had planned the day before, or just jotting down what I must accomplish that day, in terms of priority. And be honest with myself. Don't be too ambitious. Know the difference between urgent and important.
  • Open as few applications and website tabs as possible: I do best focused work when I'm in a shutdown mode. Turn off emails (or switch to "work offline" mode) so the notifications don't interrupt my thoughts. Only open applications/website that you work on. Normally it's a PPT/word, plus one website if I need to research. 
  • Set a timer for a focused period (40-45 mins), stop when time is up, take a break. If timer is up and you're in the middle of a thought, finish it. But definitely stand up and take a short break. One of the mistakes I tend to make is to ignore the timer and carry on. 99% of the time, I don't produce any value after that 45 minutes. The brain needs a short break.
  • Train yourself to ignore distractions. Be it a Skype message, a text message, a notifications on your phone. It's much harder to focus back your attention after that 1 minute distraction answering a question on Skype. Better yet, turn them all off!
  • Practice. Hold myself accountable to these principles above. It's easy to slip back to old way of doing things. Like any habits, it takes mental muscle to stick to these habits before they stick.
I expect to uncover more rules by observing myself. One thing I yet to figure out is the right cadence to check emails. More on that later.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Exploring Deliberate Practice

The word "focus" has been on my mind for a few days. Sometimes I find myself distracted by Apple Watch notifications, iPhone alerts, or any novel distractions while trying to focus on the task at hand. As I think deeper though, this only happens under two circumstances:

1) I became bored with what I was doing. I simply don't find it interesting.
2) I was challenged by what I was doing.

We'll tackle the second scenario at a later time. But getting bored with a task signals I probably wasn't spending my time on the right task - things that add true value and align to my strengths/passion.

This takes me to exploring "deliberate practice" - the concept I discovered from Cal Newport's blog. A few important posts to make note of:

  • Cal Newport introduces the idea of "deliberate practice" in this post. The idea starts with observing the chess experts and how they become grandmasters.
Two big questions on my mind:
  1. In knowledge work field such as marketing and brand management, where no clear structure or success metric exist, how do you deliberate practice, and on what skills? 
  2. The same goes for even soft skills like interpersonal relationship, management skills, and networking skills. How should one approach deliberately practice those, daily?
I took a break from writing this post when a thought crossed my mind. 

At work, I have this digital marketing director that I really admired. She might be a really inspiration for "deliberate practice". She has worked in digital marketing for decades. Since she joined the company a couple years ago, she no doubt has contributed significantly to the digital acceleration of the organization. Her expertise in digital marketing is impressive. Everyday, she will share great articles of digital marketing topics on Workplace. I mean EVERYDAY. It's clear even at her level, she continues to build her marketing knowledge every single day. 

A good role model for deliberate practice in knowledge work field like marketing. 

Rethink Screen Time In Terms of 3Cs: Consumption, Creation and Connection

Yesterday I was listening to the latest podcast episode of The Happiness Lab: good screens and bad screens . This episode features guest Cat...