Category Archives: Interaction Performance

Network Effectively With This Simple Trick

I wanted to know if Quantified Self techniques could be useful in improving how I keep in contact with people and give me tools to network effectively. I am not a natural networker so I knew that some awareness and daily habits would help.

network effectively
What Quantified Selfers Would Look Like If They Knew How to Network – And Wore Suits

My Question

How could I organize my daily communication habits so that I could network effectively?

What I Did

I tried three different approaches to tracking and daily contact follow-up. Each day I would set aside time to contact people. At the end of the day I would log the number of people contacted and the resulting positive outcomes if any. At completion I had enough data to compare the three approaches.

How I Did It

I kept a Google Spreadsheet of contacts that included the number of maximum number of days I wanted to elapse before I followed up with someone. Each day would update a field when I had connected with someone.

network effectively

A formula would then calculate the “next contact” date. With this mechanism, I could count the number of people I had on the list and the number with whom I was up to date with. I also made a note each day when I had some positive outcome from my networking.

What I Learned

How I approached the reason for contact made a significant difference in my effectiveness and stamina. Contacting people, regardless of approach, yielded a similar amount of positive outcomes. It is true that if you contact people regularly a number of them are happy to help you.

My first approach was to put 150 interesting people from my LinkedIn and personal network on the list. I thought that having a subset of people that I knew well and I liked would make for a better experience and I would “network” for a more sustained period. Here are my results from that approach:

network effectively

I had five positive outcomes during the first thirty days. That means I had job offers, proposals for collaboration or some significant project brought to me as a result of my outreach.

I maintained contact with that list for about forty days, then my efforts petered out. I was never able to be up to date with the entire list. And significantly, I dreaded sitting down daily and seeing I had five to twelve emails to write.

I tried again two months later. Thinking that the size of the list was too large on the first approach, I slimmed the list down to fifty people for the second. Here are the results:

Network Effectively

Again, I had five positive outcomes in the first thirty days and I lost interest at about the same point in time, about forty days in. I built the list to fifty people quite easily. I tried to push the list larger on 3 June, but five days later just stopped contacting people.

After these two trials I knew I had to change the framework to keep the effort going past forty  days. My approach prior had been when it was time to contact a person I looked at the last communication with that person and tried to come up with some news. Each night was a bit stressful. I had to alter that experience.

On the third approach, I did not start with a predetermined list. I put people on the list if I had a request for them. On my tracking sheet I created three notes sections. In one I wrote what I wanted from them. In the second I wrote how I could contribute to them. The third was a short note on the nature of the last contact. This is the result of organizing my communication this way:

Network Effectively

I had eight positive outcomes in the first 50 days, making for a very consistent results on all three approaches. On this final approach, I easily went past the forty day mark and am still going strong nearly sixty days in.

The trick was designing for the moment that is was time to reach out to someone. Where before I had a blank page in front of me, in this third approach I focussed on what I can contribute to them. This mde the outreach easier because I know I am giving them something and that type of contact is usually welcome. I ask them for something only on when they respond or it is appropriate to the conversation.

So the key to maintaining momentum is lowering the barrier to taking action each day. By removing that tiny hesitation when it is time to reach out the result the result was I kept at it longer. And with the consistent and clear positive outcomes that arise out of keeping in touch with people, applying a trick to sustain momentum is the obvious thing to do.

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Getting In The Zone at Work Using HRV

The Impending Quantified Workplace

There was an article in Bloomberg this week about UK companies measuring employee’s heart rate and other biomarkers to determine if traders were getting in the zone. It suggested in the future we will see corporate workers measured like professional athletes.

Getting In the Zone

The concept makes sense on the face of it. If you can improve an athlete’s performance by measuring output, a similar measuring of performance should be applicable in business. The problem in the business setting is the lack of clarity around what the improved outcome might be. A 100m dash sprinter has one number they are improving, the finish time. All measurements and interventions revolve around that number. In more complex sports there are multiple metrics, all are clear and measurable.

What is the Worker’s Goal Line?

For the worker in business, what is the equivalent? Take the case of the construction worker. Would we look at strength, hand-eye coordination or compliance with instructions? Or the retail clerk. Would they be measured in pleasant demeanor, speed of button strokes at the cash point or sales presentation? When we move to knowledge worker the potential measurements become much more elusive. Is the programmer’s ability to create a complex solution driven by cognitive ability, knowledge or access to good tools?

In each of these cases taking heart rate and heart rate variability (HRV) seems very far away from finding the relevant connection to the drivers of performance. I have been working on this for some time, having writing 15 blog posts about different interaction performance tests I have done at work. When I started with Quantified Self, my hypothesis was to see if I could improve negotiation outcomes using a physiological training plan similar to how a runner would prepare for a marathon. To test the idea I measured HRV in 86 different meetings of various types. Very few of my interventions had any impact on outcomes.

An Example of the Challenge

Here is a specific example of how difficult it would be to have access to biometric data from an employee and make sense of it. This is real data. Say you were my boss and our company’s biosensing device gave you these two graphs. In the first, I was meeting with you and several of your peers. The blue lines are that period of the meeting where I was in Vapor Lock and not at my mental best.

Getting In the Zone

 

The second graph shows my physiology ten minutes later as I was brainstorming with a colleague. Very few blue lines.

Getting In the Zone

How would you counsel me to improve? What do these graphs even say? Was I not “in the zone” with the you and your colleagues and “in the zone” with my colleague? In a world where performance feedback is hard enough to conduct already, you can see how there will need to be a very significant new framework to make sense of data like this.

So the London traders can keep measuring heart rates and perhaps achieve some improved performance. For the construction worker, the retail clerk and the programmer we have a long way to go. In my study from which I pulled the graphs I did draw a conclusion about how to prepare for meetings like that with the Big Bosses.

***

I would encourage you to try a small work study of your own. Hop over to QuantXLaFont and have a look at how to use a short break before a meeting with the Breath Sync app. You can start measuring your performance and explore this brave, new and complex world.

***

And The Winner Is..

Vapor Lock by a wide margin. A lot of interesting contributions to include:

  • cranial crash
  • Brain Choke
  • Lizard State
  • hyperlock
  • Blankout
  • Neural Network Denial-of-Service Attack

The last one is great. However, I think the technically correct term would be “Parasympathetic Nervous System Allowing Denial-of-Service Acceleration!”

Thanks all for your votes. We’ve crowdsourced a term!

Reader Poll: Name that Freak Out State

I have prepared my speech for the Quantified Self 2015 Conference and have one last finishing touch to do and I thought I would reach out for your help. The speech is about stress states while interacting with colleagues. I have used many words in this blog to describe this stress state before to include terms like Upset and Parasympathetic Flatline. But these terms don’t capture those electrifying moments where things just freeze. Let’s name that freak out state.

Name that Freak Out State

What I am trying to describe is more specific in the social environment and the term needs a little punch. It is that state brought on by any trigger that puts your body in the Fight/Flight mode at that exact moment you actually need your brain. It is the moment when all your blood moves to the back brain, hands and feet getting you ready to physically respond to danger. And you are sitting in a conference room. It is freezing up when you talk to the boss. Going blank when you get on stage to speak to a group. Those terrifying moments when you can’t recall simple facts you know you have in your memory.

I would like to get your input on a good term that captures this state in a vibrant way. The term the group likes most I will use my in QS15 speech and will start using to describe this state hereafter. Let’s crowdsource a term and see if it sticks. To the poll:

Facing the Big Boss

Have you every had to give a briefing to the Big Boss, the Boss above the person you report to? And in that have you ever gotten this look?

Uhappy Big Boss

And when you got that look your brain just froze? You could not think of what to say? The start point for my work in Quantified Self was to try and understand that “freeze” phenomenon and how to train myself to experience it less. I negotiate a lot for business and my hypothesis was that control of physiological reactions in meetings could make me a more effective negotiator.

I had an excellent opportunity to see how I was doing this week as I briefed not one, but SIX Big Bosses. Nine people total were in the room. One Boss had showed up uninvited because he opposed the concepts being discussed. And to make matters even more fun, I was told I was the primary presenter thirty minutes before the meeting. After hearing that I thought, “This will be a great HRV reading.”

The meeting was on a controversial topic and several of the Big Bosses did not agree on how to resolve it. I had been asked a few weeks earlier to help create a resolution. We were scheduled for an hour. There were two points in meeting I remember feeling the “brain freeze” moment and had to push on by looking at the slide and restarting my mental engine. Because of the late notice that I was the presenter I could not use my standard practice of memorizing the material prior to a high intensity presentation. Here is my reading for the session:

Slide1

This reading recalls the shape of the meeting very well. At the start each of Big Bosses tried to steer the meeting toward a resolution they thought was best. Big Bosses can’t help it, they get paid to steer. The Biggest Boss kept coming back to “let’s let him go through the material.” The dark blue from interval 426 to 2996 was me trying to get a word in edgewise.

In the middle of the meeting I had made my points and the Big Bosses began debating the merits of the resolution. As the spotlight moved from me I did deep breathing, listened and took notes. My memory of that period was that my brain was turned back on and I could feel a lighter feeling in my chest and head. The reading shows that I dropped from Fight/Flight as indicated by the white spaces from interval 2996 to around 6000.

Then the Biggest Boss said something to the effect that the resolution I had presented was incomplete. You can see around interval 6000 I go back into Fight/Flight as I was trying to explain how the missing part he was concerned with actually was completed. This lasted for a good period because other Big Bosses saw this as an opportunity to re-introduce their specific personal points and we were off and running. It was in this period I recall a specific “freeze” moment regarding a question on a detail that I resolved by having the group look at a different slide.

Finally I was able to get the Big Bosses to turn to the last slide where there was a collective “Oh, here it is” and you can see around interval 8900 my physiology begins to relax. The part of the resolution they were looking for was there. To my recollection the room relaxed as well. Some jokes where shared and people began to prepare to summarize and end the meeting.

During this hour long meeting I was in Fight/Flight 46% of the time, a full 27 minutes. I can’t reveal any details of the meeting, but I can believe that quality of my answers was more reactive and less thought out during those two periods. My personal variability training did make an important contribution as I was able to break up the 27 minutes into two periods that each had a specific topic I was “fighting” to make. In the first period I was concentrating on getting my main points across. Once done I was able to use my breathing and get myself to a relaxed state where I had ticked the box of “points made.” When the second period started I was only “fighting” to show the one completion point. I believe that if I had not allowed myself a completion state in the middle I would not have been as focussed on a single point which I was able to make in the end.

To see how much the environment like a meeting can change very rapidly, I had the opportunity to measure a meeting immediately after the meeting recorded above. As in I walked from the conference room for that meeting to the office for the meeting in a period of five minutes. I already had the kit ready so I just hit “record” for the second meeting.

In this second meeting I was brainstorming with a colleague on how to handle a problem that would play out over several months. There was no urgency, the colleague and I get on well and we were coming up with good ideas. Here is the reading:

Slide2

That means I came from a pretty intense Big Boss meeting where there was a lot of Fight/Flight, did a BreatheSync session for two minutes and entered the second meeting. In this one there was very little Fight/Flight at all and it was a very productive 35 minutes.

Breathing tools, understanding how the physiology reacts when meeting with the Big Bosses and finding the balance between Fight/Flight and relaxation can improve both how you prepare, and how you ramp yourself down when in an intense situation. And these same tools allow a fast transition to a new environment where you can be productive as appropriate for the situation.

I will be presenting more about how I use heart rate variability at the Quantifed Self Conference and Expo in San Francisco June 18 – 20. I look forward to it and I look forward to meeting many of you there.

Feedback While Training – Stayfit & Breathe Sync

When I started looking at Heart Rate Variability (HRV) as a tool to train myself I was drawing on my experience using heart rate monitors for physical training. When I went for a run I would see my heart rate in real time and adjust my exertion accordingly. I found this a powerful way to both increase my fitness and extend my training by not overdoing it.

Most of the apps today either lack context on the data they gather or give you a passive report on a past period of time. For example, the Jawbone UP tells you your steps but it is up to you to index that against other measures to see if you are improving your fitness. Multiple HRV apps will give you a coherence or stress reading after a session is complete. Two apps I am using now structure the feedback in ways that make the experience more interactive and provide good enough context for a user to take action in real time.

Stayfit by Marco Altini. I have just started using this app and really like it. It does not use HRV, but it creates very nice context by indexing resting heart rate against daily exertion. A quick measure of resting heart rate in the morning is very easy to do, then watching your exertion the rest of the day helps you work on fitness. The interface is very clean:

stayfit-app-pic

I find that I look at it often during the day to watch my kilocalories expended and make adjustments to my schedule and activities to increase exertion for the day. It is only available on iOS is its only drawback.

Breathe Sync by Michael Townsend Williams. I have written about this app in an earlier post and still have it as one of my go to apps. The reason is that its primary use case is to bring you back to a coherent and relaxed state very simply and quickly. It does give a measurment but that is a secondary part of the experience. The camera on your phone picks up your heart beats and then shows with a simple blue and white ring visual how your heart rate is slowing or speeding up as you see here:

breathesync-pic

Over the course of the session the ring visual will allow you to match your breath with the increase and decrease of the interval between heart beats. Very powerful and effective. I use it when I feel amped up or just prior to a meeting to get into a balanced place.

The context of indexing one measure against another in Stayfit and the very active intervention quality in Breathe Sync put them both on my daily use list. Ultimately I want to train myself to use awareness and respiration to set myself “in the zone” when it comes time to negotiate, interview and brainstorm in a professional setting. These two apps are great tools as I work on getting there.

Superpower Series: The Working Session

You can use measurements of your heart rate variability (HRV) to improve how effectively you concentrate when you work. When engaged in thoughtful work on your own and your prefrontal cortex is fully engaged your heart rate variability will be high enough that you will not show sustained stress. My experience applying techniques that kept me engaged yielded more output and I felt more relaxed when the session was over.

I had explored work session hygiene techniques in past work  that I called returning to poise. In those sessions I had discovered that I was more engaged and less stressed when:

  • I set aside a fixed period of time from 25 to 30 minutes,
  •  there was only one topic I focussed on for that period,
  • when I was distracted I used steady breathing to bring my attention back to my task,
  • the task at hand was the “right one” and no thoughts of being elsewhere intruded.

Here are four working sessions and how the measurements corresponded with how effectively I used the hygiene techniques. In all sessions I was working in the same office at roughly the same time of day. The topic was the same in all sessions, and I was working alone in the office on my computer doing planning for organizational alignment.

In the first session, I worked without using any of the hygiene factors. I simply put on the heart rate belt and worked. This is the graph of the session:

Slide1

You can see periodic stress points, where my sympathetic nervous system was firing and it is probable that my prefrontal cortex was not in full gear. I was not doing my best thinking. I logged that I was not sure there was not more important work I should have been doing. This distracted me, and I did not see good results.

Contrast this to a second session of similar length where the topic was important, I had the time set aside and was focussed. You can see the graph here:

Slide2

Far fewer periods where I was in fight/flight mode. It appears that my belief in the importance of the task reduced the amount of stress. In a 40 minute session again my concentration was high based on the belief I was working on the most important task possible and that I was in the “right place at the right time.”

Slide3

You can see that even for a longer session the number of fight/flight events were singular and fewer in number. The other hygiene techniques all were in place. The reason for the 40 minutes session was that I engaged enough that I blew right through the time limit.

Finally, I was able to have all the hygiene factors in place for a shorter session and in that I had no fight/flight incidents at all. Here is the graph:

Slide4

So when working alone it is possible to improve your concentration by developing techniques to keep yourself focussed. When so focussed, your HRV will reflect that you are physiologically in an state of complete engagement. And you will see much improved work output.

Heart Rate Belts, Phone Cameras and Convenience

I had a chance to have a coffee with Marco Altini, the builder of the Heart Rate Variability Logger app that I often use to take readings. I enjoyed the discussion as Marco is very knowledgeable on the topic of heart rate variability. I took some key insights away that will help me set direction for future studies.

During the discussion he told me he is focussing on his app that support physical training, HRV4Training. He prefers to work on this because in addition to a bluetooth heart rate belt the user can choose to take a reading with the camera on the phone. Marco thinks that the convenience of using the camera makes it more accessible.

I agree with him. In my own work I often to not take advantage of readings because I don’t have the belt on and simply don’t feel like putting it on. Just this week I did one reading while conducting an interview using the belt, and I did not take readings on numerous meetings that would have given me good data for further study.

And while pushing into new areas of study such as heart rate variability during negotiations, or while giving a speech, it is not going to work to have a finger on a smart phone camera. To only use the camera would confine readings to stationary sessions where no activity was allowed. There is much more to learn than taking readings in only a motionless state.

So I am going to start incorporating smart phone camera useage into my work and share the results here. Marco has done a workup of how his apps use the camera to compare well with the Polar H7. We have to figure out a way to make this accessible, and useful, so more people can train for improved personal performance using heart rate variability.

Superpower Series: Introduction

Our strength as a species that can envision a potential future is also the source of our greatest perceptual error. We tend to freeze a picture in place as a goal and once a situation is to our satisfaction we will want to maintain that situation frozen permanently.

This mechanism is effective when we want to achieve an outcome. We see something we want to build in our minds and keep it fixed until we see the outcome achieved. This same mechanism backfires when we try to freeze a situation in place despite it being dynamic by nature.

When we picture relaxation or stress reduction, we picture permanent relaxation frozen in time. Our expectation is that we will enter a permanent state of enlightenment where everything will be calm and ok from that point on.

Our work here is about finding the variability in our physiology so we can compare it to external circumstances. We naturally physically accelerate and relax as we go through life. These up and down reactions can come from our circumstances, or it can come from our imagination. When we are reacting to our circumstances we are in alignment with what is real and reacting appropriately.

When we react with our imagination we can be reacting to fictions, and fictions can make us accelerate when it is not necessary. So our goal is not to dumb down our accelerations or artificially amp ourselves up, it is to accelerate when circumstances call for it and to rest when no acceleration is needed.

If you want to learn more about developing a Superpower read about Basic Training.

Five Meeting Heart Rate Variability Compared

I had an opportunity to compare five meetings that had similar content and the same attendees over a one month period. My colleagues and I were preparing a big launch and we were looking at the plan in a series of review meetings. In the first meeting I had created a first draft plan and had to present to executives I was meeting for the first time. I was not sure of how they liked to consume information and was on edge. So the first meeting looked like this:

Slide1

What you see here is that I was in “overdrive” 33.8% of the meeting time.Overdrive means I my parasympathetic nervous system had stepped aside and my sympathetic nervous system had me in fight/flight mode. The blue lines in the chart are those heartbeats where the difference in time between beats was under 17 milliseconds for at least 10 consecutive beats. This meeting was almost two hours long, I was answering a lot of detail and we were finding our way together so I was in overdrive for one third the time.

We returned to review the progress from the first meeting a week later. In this I had my materials memorized and I knew how the executives consumed information. The meeting went very well, and we still had a lot of work to do. Using the same definition of Overdrive here is the chart:

Slide2

This second meeting was almost two hours long and because I was so prepared I was in Overdrive only 10.8% of the time. As you can see from the chart there were only periodic physiological accelerations. Big difference. In the next meeting, the executive I was supporting and I did not have a lot of time to prepare for the meeting. We went in without synchronizing. You can see the chart here:

Slide3

I was in Overdrive 15.2% of the meeting. You can see that my physiological fight/flight lines are concentrated early in the meeting as the executive that I was supporting and I were synching up. We found our way pretty quickly and you can see the blue lines even out.

In the fourth meeting we had taken another week to make progress on the launch. A lot of the details were worked out and we were in pretty good shape. When we got together the same executives were in the room and my supervising executive and I had a chance to coordinate. You can see the results in this chart:
Slide4

Overdrive was only 4.4% of the time and the meeting was smooth. I felt good in the meeting and the readings show things went smoothly. We had one last meeting to get final check off an approval. I would through this data out because the environmentals of the meeting completely threw things off. You can see the data is very different:

Slide5

Here you see a complete physiological meltdown as I was in Overdrive 87.2% of the time. Turns out the office I was taking the meeting from was extremely hot. I was perspiring and uncomfortable. It was a distracting situation. The meeting went well. We got approval and the communications afterward were universally positive. I believe the physical discomfort overrode the comfort with the materials.

So it appeared that reviews of familiar material with the same team of people did results in less time in Overdrive. Comfort with the material and people improved my performance. The last meeting is odd and I can’t definitively explain it with the hot temperature. But the first four seem to indicate improvements.