As I’ve spent this year thinking about living slower, one recurring theme is the selection of activities that I spend my time on. I wrote some previously about how I wanted to spend more of my life towards the extremes of either being productive or resting. The question then arises, which activities best optimize for each of those.
As I start to think about how to select tasks, the first thing that stands out to me is that there are many types of activities to account for. There isn’t one single ‘productive’. For each of the different aspects of myself there are ways to be productive. Exercising is productive to the body just as conversation is productive to the relationship.
But how many different aspects are there?
The Aspects of A Person
For about a decade I’ve been tracking how I spend my time in one week samples. Over this period I’ve developed a categorization system that contained the following buckets. I think this is a good place to start.
To me these are buckets I need to keep full. Though each is a different size and each requires a very different type of activity to fill, they essentially all compete for the same 168 hours and a limited pool of kWhs.
Not only will these buckets be different for each person, but they will change for a person over time. Now that I have a wife and two kids, family time requires much more investment than it did a few years ago when I was a bachelor.
Though I can sometimes skimp on one for a short time, I’ve found that continually underinvesting in any of them results in an imbalance. That will always surfaces itself in a negative way – appropriate for its type. Ignore the body and you will be sick. Ignore the family and you will be alone.
As I look then at my week and how to fill my time, I know that I have a number of buckets to fill and only a certain amount of time an energy. So I can best optimize by selecting activities that are of high density and multi-purpose.
Running with friends puts something in both the ‘body’ and ‘social’ buckets. Where as running or hanging out with friends would only each put something into one.
With this mentality, activities are reduced to their building blocks. Adding a habit becomes a question of which blocks are needed. (We are putting blocks into buckets in this metaphor – can you tell I have a 2 year old?) This is non-coincidentally how I think about food as well. When asked what I want for lunch my common answer is ‘about 800 calories’, though I know I need to balance the building blocks of protein, carbs & fat while ensuring I get enough vitamins and minerals.
So under this approach, when debating if I should start watching a new TV show I ask myself, do I really need 2 hours a week of indoor, non-physical, alone, distracting time?
Maybe I do. But maybe instead I see that it would be great if I could find 2 hours of outdoor, family, non-physical time. From there I can brainstorm activities that are built from those blocks. Perhaps taking the boys to the park on Saturday morning and sitting there watching them play while intentionally not thinking about anything serious.
Thinking of it like that also lets me start to fiddle with other activities to tweak them slightly in order to ensure no bucket is left under-filled or overstressed. Biking to work lets me get in some extra outside time (being in a car doesn’t count as outside) while still getting where I need to go and in basically the same amount of time.
It also lets me redeem activities that I might have once considered useless. Mowing a lawn with a non-electric mower might seem like a waste in many regards – the electric mower is faster & hiring a lawn crew is better from a value of time perspective. But using the non-electric mower transforms that time into physical and mental blocks – which you were probably going to have to find that week anyways, likely by paying to be at the gym while you paid someone to mow your lawn. In this way the same task is completed and the same personal buckets invested in – but without additional financial costs.
Under this new approach I’ve noticed myself be able to live more in certain moments that I would have previously tried to rush out of or supplement with something else. Slowly walking around the neighborhood with my son is a worthy task that now has time set aside. There are conversations that I drink in not for the task they achieve but for the conversation itself. Those things might not seem strange to you, but they used to be for me.
I won’t have time to do it this year, but my next steps will be to take a rev at the system I use to track my time. I’m going to move out of a one dimensional system into something a bit more robust and then work to set target weights using some data. There will be charts and it will be awesome.