2017 Focus: Quarter Year Update

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 detailed my 2017 focus here (read that first if you want more context). Here is how I’m progressing.

2017 Theme: Sabbath Year

2017 Challenge: Define & Launch A Sabbath Year

The launch of my sabbath year is slowly becoming a real thing. I’ve taken the first steps to put it into action and begun to lay out logistics.

After years of keeping the topic limited mostly to family & close friends, I recently gave my work concrete notice. I had roughly suggested the idea previously to my manager and one of the founders, but there was no firm timeline or next steps associated. There are still a lot of details to figure out, but the fact that I will be taking a leave from the workforce is looking fairly certain at this point.

As of now, it looks like the start date will be mid-year – sometime between now and August. This means I need to accelerate my planning a bit more as I’ve been somewhat light on that to date. I’ve not come in any danger of going over the seven hour a week planning limiter that I set for myself.

Along with planning logistics, I have done some rough thinking on the overall philosophy of a year of rest. Funny enough, more than a handful of people in my close circles are going through similar processes of taking rest or time away from their primary labor. Though most of those are shorter, in the few month range, their philosophies often share common motivations so we’ve been able to have some great discussion.

2017 Habit: Time Outside With Family

This year I renamed this particular focus item and changed a few things about it. So far I am extremely happy with the result of that process change. It has encouraged the right behaviors, repeatedly, without any strange side effects or end-of-year rushing.

To give one concrete example, I start my week on Monday, so by Sunday I am usually aware of how much time I have remaining to hit my weekly goal and trying to find extra minutes where I can. Walking to church takes about 20 minutes while driving takes about 10 – I typically prefer my mental state after walking but often time pressure & the weather push me towards driving. Lately the extra 40 minutes of outside time has helped tip the scales the other way though and I’ve been walking, even if it is cold or a bit rainy. To me that is one example of a decision I wanted to influence this year.

One process change I might consider in the future, however, is a phased ramp up where the goal is slightly easier at first and progressively gets harder during the year. For this year particularly I suspect Q3 is going to be really easy to hit 7 hours per week on account of the nice weather, long days & my break from a day job. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few weeks hit the 30 hour range.

As for results, of the 13 weeks in the first quarter I’ve managed to hit the seven hour goal 7 times.

This might seem unimpressive, but it was actually quite hard. Seattle winters are cold, wet & dark – none of which make being outside with toddlers easy and all of which increase the time overhead of getting outside (putting on jackets, shoes, gloves, hats, etc.) On top of that I am at work during the day during the week which means there are only a few hours where I am home and the kids are awake and those are usually hours where I’m doing wake up or bed time routines.

I realized how aggressive the seven hour goal was during a recent vacation to warm weather. My total for the week was only 16 hours and I had nothing to do but be outside. A lot of time is eaten up by nap times, meals (minus a few picnics) and driving to sights we wanted to see. I also took some me time to surf which doesn’t add to the total.

So far I’ve found that if I can get ~2 hours logged by Friday I can usually fit the other 5 in over the weekend.

To get some interesting data, along with recording time, I’m keeping track of what activity we took part in and which family member I was with.

We can see that our primary activity is walking – we do a lot of that around our neighborhood on account of the low overhead. A few blocks at toddler pace takes about a half hour, which is usually all I can fit in after dinner.

Most of my time outdoors is spent with the boys, or as an entire family. It is not very often that I have all three kids by myself and am outdoors on account of taking all three out is really hard. I have not once been outside with just my baby girl – I’ll need to change that in Q2. I have been outside with just Suzanne a few times, but I guess I didn’t log those – another thing to correct.

I will add that on top of that time shown in this table, I also spent another 31 hour outdoors without any family members. This includes runs by myself, surfing and activities with non-family members. I’m excited that less than 1/3 of my total outdoor time was solo this year, discouraging that was part of the motivation behind this goal. (I don’t have great baseline data on this from last year unfortunately.)

Finally, here is a collage that includes pictures of a few of my favorite outdoor activities from this year so far: New Years polar bear swim, bundled up, running, gardening, picnicing and playing in the snow.

2017 Exemplar: Eric Liddell

I started my study on Liddell by watching the movie that most people know him from, Chariots of Fire. It had been a long time since I’d seen it and this time I had something particular to pay attention to. I really enjoyed the movie.

I am now reading a biography about Liddell that came out recently – For the Glory. This seems to be the most in depth one written to date, so the timing is fortunate.

What is obvious about him so far is his work ethic and concern for others. Neither of which was my focus for this year, but perhaps I’ll learn more about his sabbath and rest in time.

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.

2016 Focus: End Of Year Review

At the beginning of 2016 I wrote about my focus for the year. I’ve posted a few updates throughout the year but want to take some time now to do a final review.

2016 Goal: Write 50 Blog Posts

2016-goal-writing

Self Grade: 10/10

I was able to, thanks to a heroic effort in December, meet my goal of writing 50 blog posts.

Here is a chart I found interesting. Blog posts per week vs miles run per week. While I got most of my running in during the first half of the year, I did the bulk of my blog posting towards the end.

Though I hit the target number, this isn’t an ideal way to do it. Part of my reason for setting goals like this is to set a habit that I view as positive. I believed that if I focused on writing posts for a year, I would get used to the process and continue doing it for years. The best way to do that is likely to have some regularity to it, rather than a huge spike at the end to hit the total number. Because of that rush to the finish, I am somewhat burned out.

To avoid that in the future, what I might do is explore setting up cutoff points so the target is evenly dispersed and I can not make up for past misses. If I had broken last year’s goal up to one post per week – I would have hit 29 of 52. Perhaps I would give it some flexibility though by breaking it up by month of quarter – that way I would have some room to absorb busy periods or particularly difficult to write posts.

Finally, incase you missed any (or don’t believe I wrote 50) – here they all are:

  1. 2016 Focus: Goal, Theme, Challenge & Exemplar
  2. Experiment: Family Feedback
  3. Health: Finding My Limits
  4. Setting Goals – How I decided on 2:37 for My Marathon Target
  5. Increasing Our Standard of Living
  6. Benjamin Franklin Types of Things
  7. Is Clinton Support A Gender Issue?
  8. How Are You Liking Seattle?
  9. COR 40L Waterproof Dry Bag Backpack
  10. The Bike Counter
  11. In America Today
  12. Thoughts Before My Marathon Debut
  13. Race Report: Jack & Jill Marathon
  14. Two Steps
  15. 2016 Focus: Mid Year Update
  16. Product Management & Collective Action Problems
  17. Passing My Athletic Peak
  18. Measuring Maturity Development
  19. Roots and Fruit
  20. Thinking Of Our Possessions Less
  21. Response: The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans
  22. Achieving Goals
  23. How We Use Time: Consuming, Processing & Producing
  24. Parenting Is An Exercise In Discovering Gratitude
  25. How We Use Time: Investing, Enjoying and Giving
  26. Should We Work?
  27. Run a Sub 2:37 Marathon – Training Plan
  28. The Chief Bottle Washer
  29. Running a “Marathon”
  30. Planning A Goal
  31. S.T.O.K.E.D. – Six Minimalism Tips
  32. To The New York City Marathon
  33. What Makes A Great Rivalry?
  34. How Could This Happen?
  35. Water
  36. How The Kroleski Family Does Toys – Our Rotation Process
  37. Getting Rid of A Collection
  38. Vaccines
  39. Measuring My Health
  40. Adding Efficiency Through Business, Government and People
  41. Team Loyalty In Sports
  42. Problems and Profits
  43. Yearly Focus – v1.4 Release Notes
  44. Chapters
  45. Today We Worship Our God(s)
  46. Steps I’m Taking To Get Sick Less
  47. Three Day Per Week Marathon Training Plan
  48. Race Report: New York City Marathon 2016
  49. The Day I Didn’t Run
  50. 2016 Focus: End of Year Review

2016 Theme: Health

Photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/pz1hGy

Self Grade: 6/10

I wrote three blog posts about health this year – one about why it was important to me, one about how I quantified it and one about steps I was taking to improve an aspect of it. All of those are the culmination of a good bit of thinking on the topic.

I would have scored myself higher had I read more on the topic from external authors. I was really synthesizing more than pulling in new information and I think I should be doing more than that for my yearly theme.

 2016 Challenge: Run a Sub 2:37 Marathon

2016-challenge-marathon

Self Grade: Failure OR 9/10

My fastest marathon this year was 2:42:23, which was ~5.5 minutes short of my goal. So using a binary scale I would have to mark this a failure.

I’m ecstatic with the results of this year though. The reason I do these yearly focus challenges is to get myself to focus on something. I believe that by doing less, I can do those things better and achieve results that are exponentially greater than the sum of what I could achieve by splitting my focus.

In terms of setting focus, this was a monumental success.

At the beginning of the year I had never raced a marathon and it had been close to a decade since I was in good running shape – since I would have called myself a runner. I wasn’t completely sure I could get into this kind of shape again – that I could train like this – that I could avoid injury.

I am proud to call myself a runner again. I succeeded in focusing on it this year. I ran three marathons total, Jack & Jill, Big Sur & New York City – finishing in 1st place, 37th place (top 1.5%) and in the top 4% respectively. I ran a 4th of July 10k in my wife’s home town and won that as well. I also locked up KOMs (the fastest time) on a couple of Strava segments in my area. In total I ran 1,627 miles – straight through the midsoles of five pairs of shoes.

Here is a picture of all the shoes I wore through the year and the medals I got. Funny that the medal for winning Jack & Jill is smaller than the participant medal. The 4th of July race didn’t have a participant medal, only one for winning my age group.

I also had one of my most exciting running incidents when during a late night run I was attacked by an owl. I was actually on the local news as: ‘Greg Kroleski Attacked by Owl While Jogging’. Success.

All of this and I would still call my time commitment ‘manageable’. I ran or cross trained on 183 days total, exactly 50% of 365. Across those days I spent a total of 214 hours running. When you add in time for getting dressed, showering, stretching, etc. I would say my average amount of time invested per day was ~1 hour. That seems like the high end of the reasonable range for a yearly challenge.

All in all, this was a model year for me in terms of setting focus without overdoing it. I am going to be doing some thinking about how I can repeat this in future years.

2016 Exemplar: Benjamin Franklin

2016-exemplar-benjamin-franklin

Self Grade: 4/10

The original intent of the exemplar category was to learn more about what made that person tick and then implement a few of their practices. My focus was really split across the items this year and so this was the item that got the least attention.

I am about 100 pages away from finishing the lengthy Walter Isaacson biography and feel that I have a pretty good sense for who Ben was. The thing I did not get to do much of was implement his practices. If I had more time, that is where I would have spent it.