Beyond Fitness: How to use your Garmin to bio-hack full-focus and finish that nagging project
Over the course of my journey from couch potato to contender on the World SUP tour, I ramped up my training with the help of my Garmin. With a solid plan and consistency, I achieved the results I wanted. Nothing was overnight, and it took a lot of deliberate practice.
I was surprised when I decided to hunker down and focus more on my business I struggled to find that same discipline. In my mind, if I was able to complete a 100 mile race maintaining focus for an entire day, I should be able to sit behind a desk and do work with that same focus for 2-4 hours. How we do anything is how we do everything, right?
I was right… and I was wrong.
I was forgetting the years of buildup it took me to get to that point. I needed to backtrack a little bit. How did I get to the level I’m at in paddling? I started with a few days a week of training, and built, over time, to 6 days a week. I added volume over time, and started sprinkling in two a days. I never went zero to hero; and if I tried, my body and mind protested. Focusing on my business wasn’t any different. And, although I wrote a Master’s thesis at one point in my life, that was over a decade ago - to say that I’ve detrained a bit would be an understatement! I needed a training plan to get my ability to fully focus without distraction back on track.
Setting the Stage
After enjoying the books “Peak” by Anders Ericsson, "Deep Work” by Cal Newport, and “168 Hours” Laura Vanderkam, I devised a plan to train my focus for deep work where I’m sitting and not using my body. I broke my own rule and ended up using the daily schedule in the Athlete Agenda to create additional time blocks for my new deep-work project blocks in addition to my existing physical workouts on the water, meals, and recovery which the Agenda is created exclusively for. In the first few weeks, these project blocks didn’t last longer than 2 hours a day, and were divided up into intervals to increase the amount of time I could work with full focus. However you split it up, the point of the time is to dedicate your full focus to the task at hand and remove any other distraction. This way, you can start to make head way on some projects that are important to you.
Deep work is not emails, training plans, networking, social media marketing, or accounting. Deep work is the big projects that I really want to do. They're the books, the Athlete Agenda, new training journals and stories for magazines. Deep work includes the big stuff that we never "find" the time to do that makes us who we are.
Using my Forerunner 945, I added a new activity named “Focus” with a single screen displaying time of day, timer, and body battery. From this activity, I set up custom alerts and/or intervals to suit my needs for the day. With notifications set to “do not disturb” and my phone tucked inside my desk drawer, I was able to sit down to do some mental work (like write this blog) on my computer.
Focus tips: turn off any notifications on your computer, close your email, and if it is a task that doesn’t involve the internet - turn that off too so you’re not tempted to “look something up real quick.” Keep a notepad next to your computer and write down the things you'd like to look up once the full-focus block is over.
As with physical training, the warmup is an integral component. It may include a hot cup of coffee, reviewing your plan or planner, cleaning up your work space, or setting up your tasks.
For me, the warmup includes taking a peek at my body battery to do a mind-body check-in to see if my subjective feelings are matching or in opposition to the objective measures. Based on the outcome of this self-assessment I either set a single end time alert, or divide my session into a few intervals.
If my mood is good and I’ve got the body battery to match, I’ll likely just set an alert in the activity as a target of how long to stay fully focused. Once ready, I hit “start” on the “Focus” activity.
If my body battery is low, I usually give myself more breaks. A low body battery before a deep work session is also an indication that I may need to take a few minutes to do a “Breathwork” activity, or some other restorative activity before getting my full-focus on (more on this later). When I started out with focus intervals, I used 4 sets of 15-20minutes, but you can use whatever you find works for you. When my watch beeps for a rest interval, I get more water, go to the bathroom, stretch, and fidget - what I can’t do is switch projects, check email that may distract me, or start any conversations with others that may pull my focus away from the deep-work task.
When the final time alert goes off, that is when you check your daily schedule and jump into the next time block that may include a more lenient approach. Cal Newport called this “Shallow Work” and it would include emails, texts, and other tasks that need to be done, but don’t require your full mental capacity!
Stick to the Plan
Just like physical training, I’ve found that I can get over zealous when I have good energy and wind up working too hard for too long and burn out for the next day - by following a plan I’m able to avoid this pitfall. Working with full-focus for one hour consistently daily is more effective than working in a distracted state for a long amount of time once or twice a week. This helps me make steady progress towards my goals instead of working too hard, burning out, and feeling unmotivated and unable to focus the next day.
As an athlete, you should avoid pairing deep work sessions and mentally demanding workouts back to back. A hard sprint workout, or a focus-demanding threshold session is too much to pair close to a session of deep-work that also requires a lot of focus. Scientific studies indicate that mental fatigue isn’t activity specific. So, it is best to plan in advance to separate your demanding workouts and your demanding deep work sessions. Use the time after a mentally fatiguing physical workout to answer emails, read some shallow memos, or do some light networking. Better yet, pair your hard workouts with some light enjoyable activity like cleaning your workspace for the next day. Likewise, follow up a session of deep-work at your desk with a restorative aerobic capacity session or some Yoga. Not only is that rewarding, but it increases blood flow to your brain and provides you an opportunity to have a breakthrough if you had any hangups during your deep-work session. Studies cited by Cal Newport consistently show that walking away (or running away, paddling away, or cycling away!) clears the mind to think and make new connections.
An Anecdotal Plug for the Garmin Body Battery:
Sometimes when I’m really struggling to write or be creative, my body battery drains! Other times when I feel like I’ve found flow in an edit, my body battery reports a charge. How nuts is that? The same goes for pairing my deep, mentally-fatiguing work with restorative aerobic activity. One drains my body battery while the other charges it. Then on days where I have a workout that demands focus and a lot of willpower, it drains my body battery. On these days I do better to polish off some shallow work tasks like emails, food prep, or social media engagement.
It is said that “Stillness is to the Mind what Movement is to the Body.” The more I work on developing into the person I want to be, the more I find this to be the case. For every activity I log training my body, I like to log some time where I’m training my mind. Bringing these two into balance helps my overall mood and health.
By setting up deep work blocks, I’m training my mind to stay focused and distract less easily. That is no small feat in our current culture of always being on and available. Furthermore, I’m finding a balance between movement and stillness in my body, and movement and stillness in my mind by keeping an eye on my body battery; optimizing how I schedule my time to be more productive without working too hard and burning out. I’m checking a lot of project boxes and I’m not exhausted.
Whole body health comes from a combination of things like physical activity, mental focus, good nutrition, adequate hydration, movement and stillness. The ability to focus on deep work is something that can be trained just like anything else. We train ourselves to make healthy eating a habit. We train ourselves to make exercising a habit; to make drinking enough water a habit. In this light, I see my Garmin as much more than a “fitness tracker.” It is a whole-body-health-training device that helps me keep track of and improve mind and body activities.
We cultivate good habits through Training. Our habits are what create success.
With your Garmin Forerunner 945. -Click Start/Stop (the upper right button)
-Scroll till you see + Add and select it with the upper right button
-Scroll till you see Other and select it with the upper right button
-Name your new activity
-Add the data screens YOU would find most valuable to YOUR full focus block. (I used time of day, timer, and body battery)
-Save it and USE it next time you need to get some undistracted work done.
-Set up "workouts" in Garmin Connect to set up intervals like Pomodoro, or whatever time interval works best for you! To select an 'other' workout you've built in Garmin Connect, send it to your device, then from the new "FOCUS" activity press and hold the center left button until a menu appears. Scroll down once to "training" and select the workout you just sent to the device!