Getting Out of The Loop: Hacking Productivity, Changing Habits, and Being AntiSocial

“These days, I make a huge mistake every day. I start off with the loop: e-mail, Twitter, Facebook, my Amazon rank, my blog stats, my blog comments. Claudia asks me, ‘Did you finish the loop yet?’ And I think it will only take a few seconds but it probably actually takes about twenty minutes. I probably do it ten times a day. That’s two hundred minutes! Three hours and twenty minutes! Ugh.”

That quote is from James Altucher in his new book Choose Yourself. But it could very well be from me.

Actually, these days my loop also includes reddit. So, it’s a little bit different than his.

And, if you use reddit, you know how dangerous having reddit in your loop can be. Sometimes you lose 2 hours. Not just 20 minutes.

Youtube is the same problem if you happen to get it stuck in your loop. Because they “recommend” another video. And then another video. It’s easy to get stuck there.

James is right. It always takes longer than I expect it to take. I always think its going to take mere seconds.

I’m just going to check Facebook to see if there are any messages or notifications. Okay, now I have to check email. Ok… now I have to check Twitter. Then, Reddit…

Then, sometimes I finish the loop and close the computer. And, I didn’t even look up or do whatever it is I opened the computer for.

I don’t remember until after I close it. Cuz I was stuck in the loop.

Then, I remember what I needed to do in the first place. So, I open the computer again. This time, fighting all urges to avoid the loop. To beat the habit.

Productivity 1


Habit = Life on Auto-Pilot

That’s what the loop is. It has become. A habit.

The other day I heard someone say that a recent survey determined that 45% of college students’ daily behaviors are done out of habit.

That means only 55% of their daily activities are determined by actually thinking about them.

And these are college students. I imagine the ratio is even more skewed towards habit for corporate drones.

This isn’t necessarily bad. Some habits are good.

I can’t leave the house in the morning without taking a shower, brushing my teeth, or combing my hair.

I mean, I guess I could. I physically could leave the house without doing any of those things. But I would feel really awkward.

Habits ingrained into me by my parents and the society I grew up in.

Even at night it’s a similar story. I can’t go to sleep without brushing my teeth. Or it would feel really awkward.

Those are 27 year old habits now. That’s what normal is to me.

But, those are good habits to have. I have no interest in changing them.

When we were kids, my mom used to have a habit of picking us up from school and driving home.

Sometimes she would say something when she picked us up like, “I have to go to the grocery store before we go home.” I think it was just a warning or something. So we knew we weren’t going straight home. But then she’d keep driving, she’d be almost to our street, almost at our house before she remembered, “Damnit I was supposed to go the grocery store! What am I doing?” And then she’d turn the car around and go to the grocery store.

But going to the grocery store wasn’t the habit. It was the exception. Driving home was the habit. This was a break from the norm. So, it took a lot more conscious effort.

How Long Does It Take to Build or Break a Habit?

habit 2

Old Habit-Change- New Habit

There are all kinds of habits. For example: there’s eating habits.

Some people have bad eating habits. They eat nothing but junk and can’t seem to break it. Some people have good eating habits. I think I have fairly decent eating habits. I don’t eat much junk. I don’t really eat things with sugar in them. I can’t stand the taste of it anymore. Doing so would feel awkward and bad to me.

This wasn’t always the case. In late 2009 I reached a rather hefty 190 lbs. The next year I did P90X twice, back-to-back, and lost 45 lbs.

Part of doing P90X was being conscious about the food I was eating. So, for 180 days I made a very conscious effort to change my eating habits. To cut down on junk food. 180 days. That’s not a short time frame. That’s 180 days of hard work.

3 years later I still can’t really stand eating junk food and I make fairly unconscious decisions (without much effort) to go for more protein and less carbs in my meals on a daily basis. It’s fairly easy for me to do so. It’s habit now. It doesn’t take any effort. But, that wasn’t always the case.

There’s an old saying “it takes 21 days to make a habit”. Maneesh and Derek Johanson both reckon it takes a lot longer than that.

It depends on what the habit it is. And how hard it is for you to develop it. Different habits take different lengths of time to build.

But, if you really want to build a daily habit, forget all of your technology. Forget all of the iPhone apps. Just go with the Jerry Seinfeld trick.

I’m trying to get out of this social media loop habit.

I don’t really want to have to shell out $8/hr. for somebody to slap me.

I’ve found that it helps to write down what I’m doing to do. Pen and paper. I tend to write all of my daily to-do lists on pen and paper these days. As much as I love technology, I think more and more, I’m starting to move away from it. Sometimes, it’s just a distraction.

So, before I open my computer now. I grab a pen and paper and I write down why I am opening my computer. To look up what? To get what?

I write that down first. Then I open the computer. And I have the paper to look at – to remind me what I’m supposed to be doing.

That way I can try to avoid the loop.

Anti-social also helps. Maybe I should use it more.



[For another good post on productivity and improvement, see my post: How I F–ed Up April; And What’s Next on My Plate]

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