2017 Focus: Theme, Challenge, Habit & Exemplar

With the start of a new year, I take the time to set my focus for the coming year. I believe that by doing less, I can achieve results that are exponentially greater than the sum of the results from split focus.

I have been fairly effective at it over the past four years and am now confident in my ability to achieve something pretty big if I focus on it for a year.

If you would like to know more about the categories and how my yearly focus process has evolved, please see this recent blog post about the categories, or review the results from past years (2013, 2014, 2015 & 2016).

2017 Theme: Sabbath Year

In 2012, for a reason unbeknownst to me, I started to feel really called to the idea of a sabbath year. This is a concept that dates back a few thousand years. In Leviticus 25 (which is a part of both the Christian Bible and the Jewish Torah) it says:

25 The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.

This idea spoke to me. Was it meant as more than the simple literal interpretation implied? Was resting the fields a way to get the people to rest themselves? Why would an all knowing God command his people to do this? Does this apply to me today? Could I even make this possible? What would my life look like if I did this every seven years?

Over the following years, and after many conversations with friends and trusted advisors, the idea evolved from a whim, to a possibility, to a probability. During that time I decided to start my counting the year I started at my current company, 2011. This means that in 2017 I will finish the sixth year and start the seventh.

2017 Challenge: Define & Launch A Sabbath Year

My challenge for 2017 is to turn this idea into a reality. To define my sabbath year process and launch the first iteration of it before the end of the year.

(The sabbath year will not line up with the calendar year and as such will run into 2018.)

At this point I have not even defined what the year will encompass. My family does not have fields, so what is it that I will rest as a technology worker? Does that mean I will not work at all, or part time, or simply treat my weekends differently? (I had a friend that did something similar by limiting their work to 40 hours and not starting any new projects.) Was tending to fields only a part of the work the ancient Israelites performed? How does this impact my wife’s year? How is rest even possible when raising children? How should it impact the children?

Since this is my first iteration, I also have a chance to define principles that can ring true in future iterations as well. What we do this year might look very different than what we do seven or fourteen years from now due to life circumstances – but some principles should ring true.

Success for this challenge requires doing all of:

  • creating a written philosophy about our family’s sabbath year practice
  • composing a plan for the current iteration
  • starting this iteration before Dec 31st

Limiters I am putting in place include:

  • maximum of seven hours each week for pre-launch planning

Tiered results – extra stretch goals to reach for after achieving the binary result:

  • spend <75% of 2016’s family budget during the sabbath year
  • the partial sabbath year that I can review by Dec 31st is, in my opinion, two standard deviations away from the standards set by the last six years.

2017 Habit: Time Outside With Family

The word sabbath comes from the lingual root of the word rest. I have historically not been very good at resting, but am much better at it when in outside. (I have previously collected data on this.)

My habit this year will be to spend at least seven hours per week outside with at least one other member of my immediate family. I will track the number of weeks I successfully do this.

I included the extra caveat of it being with family for two reasons. First, over the last four years I’ve done challenges that had me outside, mostly by myself; surfing, cycling, running & hiking. I want to make sure I am not creating a new motivation to do more things by myself. At this point in my life, having three kids under three years old – being with children is both a joy and responsibility. Second, I want to make sure I continue to introduce my children to the wonders of the outdoors. I think I’m doing a pretty good job at that, but this challenge will push me to do it even more and likely to get more creative about it.

I chose seven hours as the target because it is possible by spending one hour per day, or by spending one full day of the week, perhaps a weekend. Since my goal is at least seven hours, a camping trip that puts me outside for >24 hours will not count for any more than a long day hike – both will make the week a success. By doing that I will increase my chances of creating a regular habit that lasts into future years, rather than spikes of activity to bring a yearly average up – something I noticed I did in past years.

I will surely bump into a definition that causes trouble. What counts as outside?

I will defer to my judgement at the time, keeping in mind the initial intent of rest. I often find that roads I run on feel more restful on certain days and times than others – the same can be just as true of a national park.

2017 Exemplar: Eric Liddell

I was not able to identify someone that really exemplified the sabbath year to model after. There are a lot of similar concepts of sabbaticals in academia, missions work, church leadership and even at some large companies. Certain Jewish people still practice a form of the sabbath year as well. Skimming through that I wasn’t able to really identify a strong advocate that wrote about the topic, or that was written about. I do not know anyone personally either.

In lieu of that, I selected someone well known for their practice of the weekly sabbath. I am reserving the right to change this later this year if I come across someone more relevant, however.

Eric Liddell, of Chariots of Fire fame, the famous Scotsman who did not run in an Olympic race because it took place on a Sunday, the sabbath.

Though that was the event he is most well known for, his life exemplified devotion, discipline and love in many other ways. All principles that are core to the idea of a sabbath year.

Liddell is someone I can learn a lot from studying. He wrote one book and has had numerous written about him by people that knew him, so I have a good bit of material to work with. This year I will be learning more about what he thought about the sabbath, how he practiced it and why that was important to him.

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