On The Level: Making Changes Without Losing Balance

Words: Jude Nosek

Words: Jude Nosek

How I Found My Superpower And How I Am Discovering Other Interests

I was on a flight from O’Hare to San Francisco when I discovered my superpower (or, as my teenage kids called it at the time, my “stupid power”). We were an hour into the flight, just after the drink service, which woke me, when I noticed the man sitting one row up and across the aisle from me. That man, whose name I never thought to ask, changed my life and is changing my life daily. This article is a “thank you” of a sort to that anonymous traveler. May your delays be few and far between, my friend.

I had just awakened from a post-takeoff nap and was still groggy, massaging a cramp in my leg, when this fellow caught my eye. I accepted a ginger ale from the flight attendant, who pushed her cart past, into the rows behind me, revealing this master of travel techniques. His fingers were moving in a flurry on his keyboard. He paused and made a casual gesture with his right hand. The next thing I saw was a file. Like a magician, he had seemed to conjure a manila envelope into being. 

One moment, he was typing away on his laptop and appeared to pause to scratch his right leg. The next moment, a file was in his hand, then on his keyboard, opened to the relevant information, then closed. Then, without a pause and without looking, he magicked it away, as smoothly as he had made it appear. When he tucked it away, I noticed what I had missed during the folder’s appearance. His briefcase was not under the seat in front of him. His outstretched legs were. His zip-up, Rollaboard® briefcase had one compartment open just under the back of his legs. Into it, like a rabbit into a hat, this genius disappeared his file. I remember thinking, “Hmm, that’s clever.” My legs were bent in half (hence the cramp), my feet were resting on my zip-up briefcase under the seat in front of me.

I began to watch.

Over the next two hours, this man put on a master class called How to Work on a Plane. Each movement was precise and calculated. Each article of gear he brought forth, employed, and then retired had been curated for its maximum efficiency and usefulness. He found other files, consumed snacks, discarded waste, and selected entertainment while barely changing his typing rhythm. Then, about 10 minutes before our descent, his middle-seat neighbor had to use the facilities.

Captain Efficiency pulled his right leg (aisle-side) out from under the seat in front of him hooked his toes behind the wheels of his briefcase. As his left foot held the briefcase in place, his right leg pushed the wheels forward, and the case fell onto its back on the floor of the plane. Both feet pushed it forward under the seat. A judo sensei could not have done it more cleanly. He closed his laptop and lifted it from the tray table. With his left hand, he held the laptop securely to his chest, and with his right hand, he raised and locked the tray table in place. He unbuckled his seat belt and was standing in the aisle, clearing the way for his fellow traveler in less time than it took you to read these last two sentences.

I have stolen each technique I can remember seeing him use. Now that I am awake to these better ways, I can’t help myself from ferreting them out regardless of what I am doing. If there is a better way, I am open to it. That has become something of a superpower for me. I accumulate better techniques.

I am a systems, tricks, and techniques person. I love finding new and better ways to do things—anything, everything. I can ruthlessly toss aside a process that I have followed when I find something that seems to work better. I am also very mindful that “better” varies by person, place, and preference. “Better for Jude” might be cheaper, faster, or quieter. It might be one thing in Situation A, and it’s the opposite in Situation B. For these reasons, I try to keep my emotions about these choices to myself and my judgments about others’ choices behind sealed lips. I am having a lot of fun finding all the ways “I’m doing it wrong!” By all means, show me a better way.

The pandemic has been a wellspring of new techniques in my life. For instance, for those of you interested in this systems improvement approach, may I suggest starting a Process and Procedure Program for your company? If this makes you anxious, simply call it Our FAQs. By recording the questions and the current best answer, you will find that you are on your way.

Ask the people who know what they are doing, “How do you do the thing?” Just write it down. Pretty soon, you will have others pointing out what’s “wrong” with the process or procedure you put together. Be sure to thank them for their feedback. Incorporate it if you agree; seek guidance from others if you have questions or are uncertain. My default for “ties” in opinions is to err on the side of those who have to do the thing over anyone else. Asking why someone has an alternative opinion can be eye opening, too. So, ASK! Be on the lookout for improvement.

Another technique is the 30-day challenge. Commit to something for 30 days. Perhaps wager something positive (like a lunch together) for accountability. So, if you falter, you are on the hook for a good thing. It’s a great way to test a discipline and practice something new. It’s short enough that it’s not exhausting and long enough to see some changes. I suggest tackling one thing in the first month. For me, it was fun to get some early victories. For all of these, there are YouTube tutorials galore.

30-day Challenges to Consider

Health: Sleep

Create a bedtime routine. This changed my life for the better. I do the same things each night as I prepare for bed. Here are some things I have found helpful: 

  • Some Don’ts: nothing to drink for 90 minutes prior, no screens for 60 minutes prior, no review of things I could have done better or what to do tomorrow for 60 minutes prior. 
  • Some Dos: set my sleep sounds, review the ways I was of service to others, make a short gratitude list, read a few pages of fiction, 10–20 minutes breathing, and relaxing mediation practice.

Health: Exercise or Mental Health

Create a repetitive/repeatable routine. I do pushups every day. I have all day to reach my goal. This started as a 30-day challenge for me. I just challenged a high school friend to join me. He was not pleased. The practice doesn’t need to be and shouldn’t be overwhelming. It can be something as simply walking for 20–30 minutes a day, taking a hike, etc. During the pandemic, I experimented with different challenges. As a result, I have also added more breaks and naps into my schedule.

Health: Diet

Pick something to quit: alcohol, snacks, sugar, soda, no red meat . . . whatever.

Pick something to add: salad for a meal a day, IMF (intermittent fasting), your weight x.5 = ounces of water to drink each day . . . whatever.

Entertainment: Find a topic you are interested in and watch all the TED Talks on it. Read the most recommended book on that topic. Select a director and watch their top 5–10 films in a month. Get some friends or family members to do this with. Journal for 20–30 minutes a day. Choose a style of food to prepare 5–10 meals for the month.

At the end of 30 days, evaluate what you have accomplished and ask yourself how you feel. Next, ask someone who knows you what they think. Finally, ask yourself if you want to continue.

To improve a sense of community, ask a friend to do it with you. If they say “No,” send me an email. I’m usually down for a challenge.

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