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Leveraging the Value of Structure

Posted byWritten by David

A couple weeks into the COVID-19 lockdown, I intentionally introduced two structured behaviors in to my life.

The first behavior involved the use of time blocking. In a nutshell, I segmented my day into 6 categories of work and activity, then assigned tasks within those categories. I plan to go more in depth with how I time block in a future writing. Suffice to state here, deciding to time block and determining categories and the best time of day for those categories was a process by itself.

The second behavior involved the notion of intermittent fasting (IF). Basically, IF is a pattern of scheduled eating.

As James Clear writes:

Intermittent fasting is not a diet, it’s a pattern of eating. It’s a way of scheduling your meals so that you get the most out of them. Intermittent fasting doesn’t change what you eat, it changes when you eat.

When faced with uncertainty, my natural reaction was to create certainty.

Control what you can, let go of everything else.

Fifteen years ago, I was forced, through the criminal justice system, into a very structured lifestyle. Specifically, twice-daily breathalyzers.

I would go to the county jail every morning at 7:00 am and every evening at 7:00 pm to blow into a tube. If I did not want to go back to jail, and if I wanted to never return to a life of addiction-driven chaos and pain, I had to structure a new life around these required events.

This routine lasted nearly 3 years. It was ingrained in my mental and emotional memory. Years after, I would purposely sleep in then awake in dread. I feared both the return to jail and the detour from my disciplined schedule.

The power of habit is incredible. Imagine if you added a positive habit to your life for that length of time?

Intermittent fasting seemed like a very familiar lifestyle. Since I wasn’t doing this to lose weight — although I could lose about 10-15 pounds — IF made sense from a discipline, habit-forming, and time management perspective.

I approached IF as a means to promote focused time away from work. My eating times are 10:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. (originally ate at 11 and 6 but changed to sync with my wife’s schedule). Unlike Clear and others, I only eat from 10 to 11 and 5 to 6. I do not eat between 11 and 5. However, I will occasionally enjoy a homemade vanilla maple syrup latte at 2:00 p.m.

The eating hour is reserved to make and eat my meal and do anything else that is not work related.

In the morning, my meal is almost the same thing every day: 1.5 bottles of Soylent (I really like mint chocolate), a sliced apple with honey, and a half cup of cashews. Since I really wanted to learn to make better coffee at home, I found James Hoffmann on YouTube and took to watching one or two of his videos during this time.

I now make a better French press, understand proper dosing, and am experimenting with extraction time for a preferred tasting espresso.

At night, the meal changes and is shared with my wife. We usually take turns making dinner or cook together.

These two anchors are very important elements of my day. They create space between usually intense periods of work. With the use of time blocking, I have found myself being a bit more productive and focused throughout the day.

I no longer graze between meals. Gone are the days of eating fig cookies and granola bars every other hour just because.

The side-effect of this is my weight has stabilized. I used to have 5 and 6 pound swings in a week … not anymore.

So, I have a pretty rigid routine. But that doesn’t mean I’ve been 100% perfect since beginning in March. At least 3 or 4 times a month, those eating times are impossible to follow. We like to hike on the weekends or I will cycle. Those activities require eating immediately before or after.

The goal is not to be perfect with IF. The goal is to set a standard routine. That routine creates certainty. Certainty results in a sense of calm and focus. Calm and focus promote productivity and wellbeing. It also becomes easier to manage a deviation from the norm when you have a solid norm.

I do like spontaneity. But I also like structure. I need structure. I am mentally, physically, and emotionally at my best when I have structure. Knowing this about myself and applying structural behaviors in my life has resulted in remarkable successes and accomplishments.

The task ahead is to constantly review the structured behaviors and refine when necessary. Identification and experimentation are core components in the pursuit of purpose and wellbeing.

But, in the face of uncertainty, I am controlling what I can and letting go of the rest.

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