Friday, February 1, 2013

January 2013 Review

January was a great month for some goals, average for others.

1. Move better - Lifting went as planned, yoga exceeded all expectations.

Resetting my weights for 5/3/1 was smart. I found the reduced weights were still a struggle at times. Pain in my right hand and left elbow is gradually diminishing. The rest was overdue. Chins are going well, up to 3 sets of 2 reps during upper body workouts. Progress will be limited next month, since I will only do my main lift and one set of each accessory lift during each workout.

Yoga saw fantastic progress, especially inversions. I practiced headstands every night, in anticipation of the arm balancing workshop. I learned to lift into a tripod headstand freestanding and a normal headstand freestanding (without kicking up). To my total shock, during the arm balancing seminar, I managed to balance a normal handstand off the wall. I also learned the mechanics of a few other arm balances, but lack the strength to hold them.

There were a few other minor successes. I managed a full bind in extended side angle, then to stand up into birds of paradise. I got some new shorts that are less slippery and am now able to do high tree during class. During crescent lunge, when we take the twist, I can now open my arms to a block.

A big factor in my progress was signing up for a June yoga seminar in downtown Chicago. It consists of 15 hours of yoga over 3 days, led by one of the top Ashtanga yoga practitioners in the world. After I reserved the hotel, I looked at pictures from last year's workshop. I am in way over my head. Most of the people attending are yoga teachers, far beyond my skill level. I have to really prioritize yoga until June, to ensure I am not totally out of place at the seminar.

To help build my stamina for the weekend, I signed up for a February challenge at the yoga studio - 28 classes in 28 days. Making it more interesting, there are 8 days where I cannot attend classes. This means on at least 8 other days, I will have to take 2 classes, sometimes back to back. I gave this a trial last weekend, it is actually really fun. My wife is bought in on the time commitment, and I will scale my lifting down to accommodate the extra work. Hopefully I break through the flexibility plateau I've been struggling with. I suspect part of the problem I run into during forward folds is my thighs pressing into my abdomen. I might not be able to do anything about the physical obstruction.

The other big limiting factor I see for the yoga seminar is my back bends. During wheel, I get pain in my lower back, which proves I am not doing it correctly. The yoga anatomy book says I am relying too heavily on my glutes and lats to get up. I need to open my chest further by using my deeper back muscles and release my hips by using my quads and hamstrings more intensively. Unfortunately I don't move like that. My instructor helped me lift into a proper wheel, and it felt much better. One of my big focuses for the month will be sorting the movement pattern out. I think it starts simply, with changing how I do my up dogs. I need to get in the habit of lifting my spine up, out of my hips, while depressing my shoulders down. I will also play around with a block between my legs during wheel.

No serious injuries to note for January. My elbow and hand are still a little tender, but nothing limiting. My jaw is back to normal. I am still getting the occasional skin tear on my toes, but a little New Skin lets me work right through it. I am sure I will come up with something inventive to hurt in February.

2. Beat the internet - I did terrible here. After a few early successes on Craigslist, I started checking it compulsively. $400 of purchases and a few sales later, I may have it out of my system. At the very least, I learned to have the results of boolean searches delivered via RSS, which should make future use much less time consuming. I did sell a few bulky items, including my pool table. Less stuff will lead to a net improvement in my quality of life. I am still disappointed in how much time I wasted online.

On the bright side I managed to stay off of news, message board and comic sites. I have excellent stereos setup everywhere I work / play. I put my Netflix on hold and am not missing it.

Time boxing work went ok, but I got out of the habit of tracking what I do. That leads to an ongoing low level of discomfort, since if I have free time, maybe I could do a little more work. Working from home makes it especially hard to escape that feeling. I know I got all my important tasks done and managed to try some new stuff, but I still feel uncertain without the record logged. I need to resume time tracking. It does not take much effort and improves my home life significantly. It is a primary focus for February.

We did have two new hires in January and may have another in February. My role will change significantly as a result of these hires, so I need to be especially careful about keeping balance in life. I did setup an improved work station in my house, so maybe that will provide efficiency gains to help offset the transition overhead as our team re-normalizes.

3. Make my money work - Grocery spending remained relatively low. I enjoyed oatmeal for breakfast most days. Even after splurging on Ceylon cinnamon and including a breakfast patty on the side, this is a big cost saver. Eating less (now that I am not lifting so heavy) offered additional savings.

Craigslist has been a double edged sword. I spent far less than retail to make major upgrades to my home office. I replaced my folding table with a desk, my headphones with a stereo, my slippers with a plush rug, and the bare light bulb with indirect light. On the other hand, I am out $400. Obviously I think this was a worthwhile investment, but I still no longer have that $400.

Learning to use Craigslist definitely qualifies as skill development for making my money work. At the most basic level, I spent 25% of retail. Realistically, paying retail, I would have cheaped out and ended up buying throw-away furniture. With Craigslist, I get to use nice things, and if I am careful about my buy/sell prices, can recover the money invested when I tire of a purchase. It changes furnishing a room from buying stuff to a re-allocation of assets.

The biggest plus has been practice at meeting new people and negotiating with them. In general, I have a hard time in unscripted social situations, especially if there is underlying conflict (ie a negotiation). With Craigslist, if I fail to deal, I pay the price.

People list their items expecting to negotiate, and they will try to negotiate on anything up for sale. I definitely made a few mistakes this month. I got excited about "big" cash in hand and sold my pool table to a very motivated buyer at his first offer, instead of holding out for a few hundred extra. When I bought my rug, I overpaid by at least $20, because I chickened out when faced with the prospect of negotiating in person with 2 obviously wealthy people. In my head, I needed the rug "today" and was scared of losing it. I let myself get too invested to negotiate properly.

On the other side, with some patience I got 40% off my stereo and 50% off my desk. By calling around, finding someone close to home and scheduling purchases in the same town on the same evening, I was able to get furniture moved for far less than any initial quotes. After declining two low offers for my squat stands, I found the right buyer at full price.

Clearly extending these lessons beyond Craigslist is where the major pay off lies.

Otherwise, I made it further into my investing book. I am still off video games and have actually been whisky free as well (due to the yoga seminar prep). I doubt technical investing is the right choice for me. I may not even go through the trouble of calculating the Beta or expected return of my portfolio. However, learning about financial engineering certainly helps to understand corporate behavior. Seeing as my salary pays way more than my investments, that's a great reward.

In February, I expect to read more of the investing book and continue eating cheaply. With so much time committed to yoga, little else will happen.

4. Socialize - Unless I count people on Craigslist, my social life has suffered. Despite leaving my calendar empty in December, holiday obligations made for a hectic month. I tried the same strategy for January and found empty weekends. I still did yoga and saw family/friends, but almost everything non-yoga revolved around food. February will be dominated by time at the yoga studio. I am not planning on anything else, but my wife is setting up a party for March.

January was rewarding. On to a(nother) month of yoga.