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create-consume totalsA little more than a month ago, I went through a huge life-change: I left my corporate job to focus on Humor That Works full-time.

One of the most challenging adjustments to working for yourself comes from lack of structure–you no longer have a set schedule where you are expected to be in an office during specific hours and no one checks up on you to make sure you’re actually doing work.

While I definitely welcome this freedom, I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste my time away catching up on TV shows I’ve missed (I’m just discovering that Parks and Rec is a really good show) or getting sucked into the 3600 hours of streaming Olympic coverage.

Thankfully friend and fellow improviser, Matt Shafeek, announced an awesome challenge for July. The challenge was called Create / Consume and it was a huge help in keeping me productive with my free schedule.

The Create / Consume Challenge

The concept of Create / Consume is simple: for an entire month, spend more time creating than consuming. As far as rules go, that’s it. What you define as creating and consuming is up to you. How you track your time is up to you. The rewards for completing the challenge, also up to you.

That said, Matt does share some tips and tricks on the Create / Consume site, as well as the rules for him personally. The most important thing is finding a process that works for you and identifying the things you want to do more of (creating) and what you want to make sure you limit (consuming).

My Create / Consume Rules

Matt and I are similar in that we both work on a lot of different things, we’re both improvisers and we both love measuring our productivity. And yet we managed the challenge slightly differently.

While Matt used a timer on his phone to track time, I estimated the time I spent on various activities at the end of each day. While this isn’t as accurate, it was easier for me and meant that I actually stuck to the program (more accurate numbers aren’t helpful if you always forget to press start on your timer).

My list of creation and consumption is similar to Matt’s: anything that builds towards one of my key goals was marked as creation–even if it was technically consuming something.

As an example, doing research for a blog post may be “consumption” because I’m reading instead of writing, but it’s done with the intention of helping me create (as opposed to the consumption of reading for pleasure, such as reading A Bad Idea I’m About to Do for fun).

Here’s how I defined the 4 categories listed on the Create / Consume site (Creation, Consumption, Gray, Neutral):

Creation

These activities are related to helping me achieve one or multiple goals that I’ve established for myself.

  • Writing — blog post, chapter for my book, creating a new presentation
  • Performing –on stage for improv, stand-up, storytelling
  • Coaching — improv, individual clients
  • Practicing — improv, stand-up, storytelling
  • Training — humor in the workplace, improv, interview skills
  • Planning — for Humor That Works, ComedySportz (CSz), general business
  • Researching — necessary / relevant info for writing

Consumption

These activities are related to me decompressing and taking in content created by other people.

  • Browsing — the Internet
  • Watching — TV, Movies, LiveStreaming Olympic Coverage
  • Reading — newspapers, books, magazines (for pleasure, not research)

Gray Area

These activities could fall into both creation and consumption. The biggest example here is watching improv: a lot of the improv I watch is because I am performing later in the same show or am there to support the community. I often watch improv with an eye for what I would do if I was performing / what made people laugh but it’s still not the same as creating improv magic myself. Thus, gray area.

  • Watching — Improv shows
  • Networking — with new people or old acquaintances

Neutral

These activities don’t really fit in either category, though after a month of tracking, I might consider moving Exercising to Creation and Email to Gray. Items that were neutral meant that I didn’t track them at all (though the data analyst inside me wished I did).

  • Emailing — reading, writing, organizing
  • Exercising — working out, playing sports, running
  • Cooking / Eating — food & beverage
  • Socializing — with friends
  • Sleeping

Results

So how were the results of my first month of tracking? Not too shabby. I successfully completed my goal of creating more than I consumed (89 hours creating vs 37 hours consuming vs 28 hours of gray-area):

create-consume totalsTaking a look at my Creation, you can see a majority of it came improv (Practice at 24.5 hours and Shows at 17 hours, with writing at #2 with 17 hours).

creation type breakdown

And now looking at Consumption, the main categories were Internet, TV and Movies (oh and a whopping 5 minutes if playing Word Warp on my iPod). The scary part about Internet usage was that, when it came to Consumption, 90% of my time was spent on Reddit, ESPN and Facebook. As for the TV / Movies, the majority was Parks and Rec plus re-watching Independence Day and seeing The Dark Knight Rises.

consumption category breakdown

Looking at the Gray Area results, everything was entirely from watching improv shows (meaning I saw 28.5 hours of improv in the month of July).

Another point of interest for me was regarding time-of-day: when am I most productive and when do I decompress. As you can see in the graph below, middle of the day is the most productive time while late at night is when I do most of my consumption.
time vs activity count

Key Insights

Based on the above analysis and some additional number crunching behind-the-scenes, here are some of the interesting things I learned about my creation and consumption in July:

  • I’m happy with my first month of tracking. Almost at a 60/40 ratio is a good start, though I do want it to get better. For August, I’m going to shoot for a 70/30 split.
  • The single activity I spent the most time on was browsing the Internet at 20:15, followed by Watching CSz Matches at Championship (13:oo) and teaching CSz Workshops (12:30). The first Humor That Works related activity was at #5 with working on a specific training at 7 hours and 45 minutes.
  • The activity with the greatest average time per instance (so the average length I spent on an activity non-stop) was Parks and Rec (3 hours 37 minutes per session aka 2 binge sessions to finish Season 4), followed by Watching CSz Matches at Championship (3:15), watching movies (Independence Day and The Dark Knight Rises both around 3:05) and facilitating a training (3:00).

Based on the analysis, the key actions I want to take include:

  • Dedicating more time to Humor That Works. For July, 67% of creation time was dedicated to Comedy (which includes improv performance and shows) while only 23% was dedicated to Humor That Works. Granted this was a special month for comedy (lots of private shows and ComedySportz Championship in Chicago), but good to keep an eye on.
  • Not spend so much time browsing the web. I spent 20 hours on various websites, but 0 hours reading a book for pleasure. That’s pretty sad. As is the fact that my #1 activity out of everything I did was browsing the Internet.
  • Getting more focused during the day. My peak productivity seems to be between 1pm and 7pm–for August I may look at embracing that and seeing if I can get more accomplished by focusing on bigger / more important projects during those key hours.
  • Going to bed earlier instead of wasting time. Most of my consumption came after midnight. That means I’m up wasting time doing nothing instead of sleeping. If I went to bed, I could get up earlier and possibly add a few hours to my productive mid-day.
  • Track more! I love being able to go through all of this data, but I’m sad I don’t have additional details such as the amount of time spent on email, working out and eating. I just have to make sure I find the balance between getting good data and tracking way too much detail…

Summary

So what was the biggest benefit of all this? For me it was giving me insight into how I work and keeping me honest about how I’m spending my time. By having the data in front of me, I can make strategic decisions on things I want to keep or change (such as less time on the Internet).

But perhaps the greatest thing about doing this challenge was that simply knowing I was tracking my time influenced my behavior for the better. Early on when I didn’t have much “creation time” reserved, I did less consumption because I didn’t want to tip the scales. That alone was worth implementing the system.

For those of you with creative ambitions, I recommend you give it a try. You certainly don’t have to keep as strenuous of logs, nor do you have to go into as much analysis, but it is an interesting challenge to at least try for a month.

If you have any questions, let me know. If you have any recommendations on how to track time spent on all of these different activities, definitely let me know as well.

This week’s project was to live on a $100 budget for the entire week. Below is the “diary” of that spending, or you can read about what I learned from living on a limited budget.

Day 1 – Sunday

9:17am – The start of this week isn’t so bad. Matt is leaving today, so his parents are in town to pick him up. Luckily, we go to breakfast at Bagel Express which is cheap, and even more luckily, Matt’s parents insist on paying for my $2.25 buttered bagel and $1.79 Nesquik Chocolate Milk. One meal down and $0 spent.

11:15am – My first expense! Today is the last class of my sketch class and we have to make copies for everyone in our class. The total comes to $4.39. I should’ve written a shorter sketch, or better yet, printed it out at work on Friday.

2:47pm – I’ve felt my first discomfort from the challenge (yes, already). I only have a short break between my sketch class and an audition for an improv group, so I have to eat fast and somewhere in between the two places. McDonald’s is the only feasible option, and unfortunately it’s Manhattan so the $1 menu doesn’t really exist. Knowing I have an entire week ahead of me, I get a 4-piece nugget, small fry, and cup of water – $2.70.

2:59pm – I’m still hungry.

5:45pm – I just got back from the audition (it went OK, I should know sometime this week). I am starving. I have to make my grocery list. This is probably the most important event this entire week. Poor planning here could leave me miserable towards the end.

6:37pm – Grocery shopping is proving harder than I imagined- individual items add up very quickly. And why don’t these stores put prices on everything? If I don’t know how much it costs, I can’t put it in my cart with confidence.

6:50pm – I’m back from the grocery store and I have to eat something…anything. I elect for a granola bar before even putting away the groceries, even the frozen foods. I technically only spent $13.04, but that’s because I already had a lot of food here. But, in the spirit of this challenge, I’ve decided to total the cost of the food that I would’ve bought if I didn’t already have it (since it makes no sense to waste the food I already have by not eating it and buying it again). My new total grocery bill is $61.97… Holy crap it’s going to be a tough week.

7:55pm – I had my first meal from stuff I bought at the store – 9 chicken nuggets and a piece of bread. I feel full for the first time today.

9:45pm – I’m heading to bed to make sure I’m well rested for work tomorrow and more importantly not get hungry again tonight. My total spending for the day: $69.06.

Day 2 – Monday

8:30am – It’s a really good thing that I started waking up at 6am two weeks ago- living cheaply requires a lot of preparation. I woke up at 6am, worked out in my room at 6:30am, cooked and ate breakfast (3 eggs and a piece of toast) at 7:15am, showered, and packed a lunch for the day and was finally done by 8am. Then, as I was getting ready to leave for work, I realized the laptop bag I’ve been using, a nice leather, over-the-shoulder one, isn’t designed for carrying a lunch. So I made the switch to a backpack to make sure I could carry everything. Who knew saving money meant returning back to your high school days?

11:17am – I’m starting to get hungry- I don’t think I’ll make it to lunch. Luckily we have free pretzels here in the office- they should hold me over for now.

1:55pm – This challenge would be a heckuva lot easier if I had just decided to keep to myself for the whole week- but that’s not what I’d want to do if I really were on a strict budget. With that said, I just spent $16.96 on lunch at europa café. Why? Because a friend of mine was able to hook me up with tickets to David Letterman, and the least I could do was pay for her lunch.

2:57pm – Getting hungry again. Since I didn’t eat my packed lunch, I can grab the granola bar and have myself a snack.

3:44pm – I’m not feeling all that well (headache and a little nauseous. Is it because of something I ate? Or my altered eating schedule? Either way, I did not budget for getting sick).

4:54pm – Not eating my packed lunch has proved beneficial for the second time- I grabbed the turkey sandwich and ate it on the way to picking up tickets for the Letterman show.

8:25pm – I just had to make my first public sacrifice , which sucks. The friend that went with me to Letterman (which was pretty cool to see) asked if I wanted to grab dinner after the show. With only $13.98 In my pocket, I can’t afford to do it, so I have to politely decline.

9:35pm – I just got done eating two delicious chili dogs and watching “The Daily Show” on Hulu.com. Great meal, great entertainment.

11:15pm – It’s about time for bed and I’m not hungry at all. My total spending today was $16.96.

Day 3 – Tuesday

6:15am – I still have a bit of a headache and am feeling a little nauseous. I don’t feel like eating yet, but hopefully the Gandalf of my body will let this pass.

7:01am – Time for the breakfast of champions- store brand Frosted Flakes. It’s a nice, cheap meal, but generally doesn’t keep me very full. We’ll see how the morning goes.

10:30am – I just got done with a conference call, and I think it’s time I worked the rest of the day from home. Hopefully being in more relaxing clothing and in the comfort of my own home will help me feel better. Plus I have a lot more food choices there.

12:35pm – Seeing as how I didn’t budget for being sick, I don’t really have anything suitable to eat. The closest thing to soup I have is $.33 ramen noodles, so I had that plus two slices of buttered bread. Now it’s time to get back to work.

2:45pm – OK, so by work I meant nap off being sick for a little bit. The sad thing is that I actually feel a bit worse then when I went to sleep.

4:30pm – Finally feeling better, and thanks to a delicious peanut butter & jelly sandwich, I’m feeling full as well.

7:45pm – Woodruff is over to talk about how we want to try to get Smarty Pants up and running in New York. Unfortunately I didn’t really buy any food that was good for more than one person, so we have to run to the store. We decide to go with some hamburger helper- him paying for the hamburger and me getting the helper at $3.49.

11:15pm – I still haven’t even made it a day with spending no money. My total budget left is $10.49.

Day 4 – Wednesday

7:30am – I’ve got a pretty long day today, so I have to make sure I plan appropriately. I started the day with a bowl of cereal and just finished packing some sandwiches and snacks to hold me over through work and ComedySportz practice. I hope it’s enough because I won’t be back home till after 10pm tonight.

8:05am – My fear came to fruition this morning – my monthly subway pass expired. Fortunately I wasn’t going to include this cost in the challenge (it’s a monthly expense), but it stills requires a trip back to the apartment to grab a credit card to pay the $81. Also, in the spirit of experiencing what it would be like if I didn’t have the option to take the subway, I’m walking to work this morning. Luckily it’s a nice day, so hopefully it won’t be miserable.

8:45am – What a walk… Google says it’s 2.1 miles. On the plus side it was nice out and I got in a good morning workout. On the minus side it took me 40 minutes to do, I’m now sweaty and starving, I couldn’t read or write like I normally do on the subway, and I have a bit of a headache. I definitely couldn’t do that every morning and afternoon, especially considering tonight I have to go to the west side for practice.

9:03am – I couldn’t do it, I had to eat something. There goes the granola bar for the day.

1:07pm – After a challenging morning (my head hurt the worst it has in awhile), I’m now feeling good and full, thanks to my sliced chicken sandwich and Doritos.

3:56pm – The advantage to packing my lunch was that I was able to pack two sandwiches, the second of which I just consumed. This is supposedly the better way to eat anyway – smaller, more frequent meals.

6:04pm – Thanks to my preparation this morning, I have a chicken pot pie I can cook in the office kitchen. Throw in some left over carrots and things are going well.

10:15pm – I just got back home from improv practice and I’m glad to be back in the presence of food. Even though I had them two days ago, the chili dogs are calling my name again. Bon apetit.

11:47pm – I was finally able to make it a day without spending any money. I’m sure I’ve done this many a-time without realizing it, but when you’re away from home from 8am to 10pm, it requires some planning ahead. Still sitting at $10.49 left for the week.

Day 5 – Thursday

6:41am – I got bored of the cereal, so I went back to scrambled eggs and toast. After starting the eggs, I realized I probably should’ve waited to cook/eat them till after I worked out, but I can’t change that now. Today’s eggs were a little dry, but definitely edible.

7:35am – My worry about eating too much before working out (a weight-free routine I do in my room) was unwarranted. My worry that I’d be hungry after the workout was accurate. Luckily a handful of carrots should tide me over for awhile.

11:11am – My wish for more food came true- someone had leftover bagels after a meeting and offered them up to the rest of the office. Who would’ve thought a simple bagel with butter would be like Thanksgiving in September.

1:06pm – Thanks to the free bagel, I was able to wait a little longer till lunch- a turkey sandwich and some Doritos.

3:47pm – Snack time with Mr. Granola bar.

5:40pm – Just like yesterday, I came to work with two sandwiches. I’m not starving by any means, but rather than take the PB&J home or leave it for another day, I figure I might as well eat it right?

9:34pm – With only a couple days left, I decided it was time to bust out a long-time staple in my “cook at home” diet- pizza rolls. I have to imangine I’ve been eating the pepperoni variety since 2001.

10:12pm – I’m calling it a bit early tonight to make sure I’m back to 100%. It was another $0 day, AND no headaches–maybe I’m not allergic to being broke after all. $10.49 left for 2 days.

Day 6 – Friday

7:10am – Thanks to me forgetting about an 8am meeting I have today, I have to scarf down a small bowl of cereal, throw a sandwich in my bag, hop in the shower, and get to work. We’ll have to see if this poor planning affects my day.

10:11am – Yep, the skimpy breakfast is already leaving me hungry. Pretzels in the office to the rescue.

11:59am – I can’t hold out any longer, I have to eat lunch. Another turkey sandwich and Doritos.

3:47pm – Down goes the granola bar.

6:11pm – I made the mistake of not making a second sandwich for the afternoon, so I am absolutely starving. I decided to finally reheat the pizza from Monday, which at least makes me feel a little bit better about spending $5.50 on it.

12:35am – So I accidentally spent the last 6 hours watching the first 8 episodes of the first season of The West Wing. I had never seen the show but have had Season 1 sitting in my DVD collection for well over a year. While not the most exciting of evenings, it was relaxing and best of all free. No dollars spent today and $10.49 left for the last day of the project.

Day 7 – Saturday

8:41am – The last day of the challenge and I couldn’t be happier (or I guess maybe tomorrow when it’s over I will be). Unfortunately due to me going through my email and RSS feeds for the past hour, I have to eat a quick bowl of cereal before heading out to meet a friend to observe the taping of his weekly talk show. We all know how well a bowl of cereal lasted me yesterday…

11:15am – Luckily I threw a granola bar and sandwich in my bag before heading out the door. Nothing has really happened yet on the set, so I have some time to eat.

11:46am – I wanted to wait until later in the day to resort to the sandwich, but I can’t make it.

2:25pm – Due to some technical difficulties, they still haven’t actually taped anything yet. On a positive note, they did order pizza for everyone.

10:03pm – The good news is that heading into the evening, I had a few dollars left in the budget ($10.49 to be exact). The better news is that I spent $5.78 on cream cheese and tortilla chips, meaning I was able to make Skyline Chili Dip. The bad news is that Ohio State is not doing that well against USC.

11:41pm – With the week almost over, and the OSU vs. USC game being a blowout, I just want to get this post done and get to bed. As a “reward” for my frugal spending Wednesday through Friday, and what was supposed to be in celebration of the OSU game, I spent $5.78 today. That brings my grand total for the week to $95.29, leaving a $4.71 surplus!

As anyone that has read some of my previous postings can tell, I have a problem with commitment. I’ve attempted to start blogging consistently on a number of occasions (see “Joke of the Day”, “A New Thinking”, “The Cooking Project”, and “What I Learned”), but I’ve been unable to stick to any of them.

Well, with 2007 here, it’s time I try one more time. Now I know what you’re thinking, you’ve tried it four times with your myspace blog (and a number of other times w/ AIM, etc), what makes you think you can do it now?

The answer has 2 parts:
1) I have this feeling that 2007 is going to be huge comedic year for me, Smarty Pants, and The 8th Floor, and I want to do everything I can to make sure that’s true.
2) I know how I work, and therefore know what kind of reward/punishment system will help me stay motivated. As a result, I am proud (and worried) to introduce to you… (dun dun dun):

THE 365 DAYS OF DREWY GOODNESS CHALLENGE

The challenge is to myself, and it is to write about something (anything) every single day of 2007. In order to motivate myself to do this, I will be offering $10 to the first person that comments on my wall whenever I fail to post a new entry. That’s right, you read correctly. I will give $10 to whoever calls me out first whenever I miss a day of blogging.

And ok, I understand that $10 isn’t all that much money, but it can get you two combo meals at Chick-Fil-A. Plus, the key here is whenever I fail to make a new post, meaning that for every day that I miss posting something in 2007 (and someone calls me on it), I will pay out $10. So theoretically I could pay out $3,640 if this is the last day that I make a post (not talking chump change any more).

As with any challenge, competition, give-away, etc. there are some rules & regulations:

  1. The first person to comment on my myspace wall pointing out that I did not post a new entry will win the $10 for that day. If you don’t have a myspace account, then shoot me an email over at drewtarvin [at] gmail [dot] com.
    1. If you live near me, or I will see you in the near future, I will give you the money in cash. If you live in a different city, then I will mail you a check for the amount.
    2. If no one manages to post a comment before I make up for the missing post, then I’ll be the winner.
  2. Rules are subject to change at anytime, but they will be announced either as an update to this post, or as a new posting. Possible rule changes include:
    1. If I no longer have a passion for writing (very unlikely), then the challenge could end indefinately. (Any missing entries prior to the announcement of discontinuation WILL be paid).
    2. Once I create my own website, the blogs will be posted there as opposed to myspace.
    3. If I end up paying out a large number of payments, I may switch to PayPal for my long-distance readers.
  3. An entry can consist of any number of types of post. They can be as simple as a one-liner, more in depth like a story or an entire bit, or unrelated to stand-up in the sense of: something I’ve recently learned, a review of a movie (or cd, tv show, food), a tip for using stand-up or improv in every day life, etc. An entry as simple as “Here’s my post for the day” does NOT count, I won’t use that as a loop hole.
  4. Posting an entry day does not necessarily mean on every single *date*. There will be times when I post something after the stroke of midnight that is geared for the day before (unfortunately our lives don’t all revolve around the 24-hour clock of 12:00am, especially on days I will be traveling). Therefore an entry is to be assumed missing after 5:00am.
  5. Finally, there are certain circumstances where I may not be able to post an entry right away (such as travel out-of-town or extreme sickness). In these cases I will post a note IN ADVANCED so you are all aware. I will also make up for those posts so as to still reach the 365 number.

So that’s it. That’s the 365 Days of Drewy Goodness Challenge.

In addition to helping me by “encouraging” me to write every day, there are a few other things you could do to really help me out (I know I’m already asking a lot, but…):

  1. Leave a comment. This is by far the biggest help. Leaving a comment helps me gauge people’s reactions. Whether it’s a note about a joke that I’ve left, or even a question, your comments can lead to further discussion (and sometimes better bits).
  2. Tell your friends. The more people that read my blog and know about my upcoming events will become more sources for feedback so I can get better.

Feel free to suggest changes to the challenge or other things I can do to get better. Here’s to a great 2007.

Thanks for reading!