2020 Focus: Action Economy

With the start of a new year, I take the time to set my focus for the coming year. I believe that by being selective about where I direct my energy, I can achieve results that are exponentially greater than if I split that energy across many different goals.

More details about the process are in this blog post and you can review the results from past years (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, & 2019).

2020 Theme: Action Economy

My theme for 2020 is action economy.

This is a phrase I’ve borrowed from board gaming where it describes the ability of a player to utilize their limited turn actions to maximize their ability to score points.

The real life application of this is efficiently using my resources (time, skills, knowledge, network, money, etc.) to achieve the goals that I’ve selected for myself.

This is the second full year of my sabbath cycle focused on preparing for my calling. As I think about achieving goals over the long term, and I realize how thin I am stretched, effectively using my resources has become a top priority for me. I need to get better and doing more with less. This year I want to spend some time thinking about that and building heuristics I can lean on in the future.

This year will be centered around learning how to effectively measure the inputs needed to achieve outputs, how to more accurately predict them ahead of time and how to reduce them.

2020 Challenge: Develop a Strategy Evaluation Model

For my challenge this year I am going to develop a model that I can use to evaluate various potential strategies for achieving a goal. I want to be able to use this to quickly (and hopefully accurately) predict the costs of each strategy, so that I can select the best one.

Some things I want to think through as part of this are; what is the value of my time?, how should I factor in risk potential?, how can I account for other externalities?, what other outputs do different strategies have? and how should I value them?

The end result, I hope, will be a model that lets me answer questions like; is it better to mow my lawn myself or pay a neighbor kid to do it?, should I take on a high paying project that uses my current skills or invest time learning a new skill?, or should I go on another training run before trying to run 93 miles around this volcano? (hint: yes)

2020 Habit: Run 13 Projects & 52 Common Tasks Through the Model

My habit will directly pour out of the challenge. I want to apply the model I develop to 13 of my 2020 projects and 52 of my common tasks. My hope is that by doing so, I’ll find out that some of the ways I spend my time or money are best handled in another fashion.

For the former, I will look at projects I take on during the year and use this to estimate the cost and effectiveness of the strategy, which I will then compare to the reality after the fact. I use GTD to organize my life and usually have ~6-10 projects that are active at any point – things like planning a vacation, getting a new job, buying a house, learning to stand up paddle, etc. These projects range in complexity and duration but what they all share is that they are things I want to have accomplished and if I can accurately define what it is that I want to accomplish, I can better optimize how I get that done.

For the latter, common tasks are something I track via recurring ToDos. I have ~100 that I undertake with various frequencies; 40 yearly (like this blog post!), 10 semi-annually, 17 quarterly, 9 monthly, 6 biweekly, 5 weekly and a few at various other increments in between. Those will be potential place for big impact, especially the tasks that take a significant amount of time due to the compounded impact of saving effort on a task that I repeat many times.

2020 Exemplar: Warren Buffett

I still struggle to find good Exemplars. I need someone that demonstrates the quality, that has documented their thoughts about it and/or that has had a lot written about them. That tends to limit me to famous and successful people. That doesn’t seem altogether wrong – successful people often get there due to the same good choices and behaviors I want to emulate. But they also get there by making certain tradeoffs and I’m worried I’m overexposing myself to those tradeoffs. I am also concerned that this pool of people is disproportionately white men – something that will limit the experiences I have a chance to learn from and relate to.

That said, I’ve chosen a successful, famous, white man this year because I had a hard time thinking of anyone that has had more success prioritizing and think about the value of things. I know essentially three things about Warren Buffett

  1. He has made a good bit of money investing in companies he thinks are valuable, when others don’t see the value
  2. He is an advocate of ruthless prioritization
  3. He has simple tastes and plans to give all of his money away

These things all seem like they fit with this year’s theme of action economy quite well. Buffett’s success and contemporariness also means there is a ton written about him.

Interestingly Buffett is the first exemplar I’ve selected who is still living and I’m actually only two degrees away from him socially – people I know have met him. I don’t think that means I’ll have a chance to spend 1:1 time with Buffett this year to learn from him directly, but I have thought about selecting exemplars I’m closer to in the future as a way to learn more directly from them. This feels like a step in that direction.

2020 Bucket List Item: 100+ Mile PNW SUP & Trail Running Adventure

This year for my bucket list item I’ve decided on the general flavor of what I want to do, but I haven’t yet figured out the specifics. I am going to combine two new loves of mine into something new (to me at least), awesome and thoroughly PNW.

The area I currently live is made up of mostly two things, bodies of water and wilderness areas with trails. I’ve been enjoying both over the past few years – running on the trails and SUPing in the water.

I decided to combine those into a single adventure by undertaking a 100+ mile SUP (stand up paddling) and trail running adventure.

By combining these two modes of transportation, I will be able to get to anywhere within ~100 miles of my house, including many remote spots that there is no easy way to go to via a single mode of transport. By land or by water, I will cut a path and get there. There is something really cool about that idea and it might open up some new camping options for the future.

It is also nice that these two activities utilize different parts of the body, so preparing for both of them should offer me some well rounded fitness this year.

I’m excited to figure out where I can go and then get there. The last time I went SUPing in the sound I had an encounter with a pod of jumping orcas and the last time I went for a trail run I bumped into a mountain lion, so combining the two sports feels ripe for adventure.

2019 Focus: End Of Year Review

With the start of a new year, I take the time to set my focus for the coming year. I believe that by being selective about where I direct my energy, I can achieve results that are exponentially greater than if I split that energy across many different goals.

I detailed my 2019 focus here (read that first if you want more context). I’ve posted a few updates throughout the year (quarter year, half year & three quarters) and now is the time to do a final review.

2019 Theme: Long-Suffering

Self Grade: 9/10

2019 was my best year ever for executing a yearly focus. Part of this is certainly due to everything I have learned from having mixed results in the past. I kept my challenge, habit, exemplar and bucket list item all tightly nested with a topic that I was getting plenty of time to think about from everyday life anyhow. That resulted in a nice synergy – never before would I have thought I would use Nelson Mandela as motivation to help me press forward while running around a volcano by myself at 4am, but here we are.

2019 Challenge: Fasting in the Wilderness

Self Grade: 8/10

In December I went out in the wilderness of Joshua Tree National Park and fasted for 48 hours. I wrote some thoughts on that experience here. Funny enough, the picture that I decided to use last January is from Joshua Tree, even though I originally had planned to do this closer to Seattle.

I am only giving myself 8/10 for two reasons. First, my total fasting time was exactly 48 hours and wilderness time was ~42. That was the bare minimum of what I had hoped to accomplish. My leaving was mostly due to scheduling issues and not inability to continue so I don’t feel like I got as close to my max as perhaps I wanted. The second reason, which likely resulted from that first, is I didn’t get quite into the headspace that I wanted to. I’m not sure if it just takes me longer to get there now because I have more in my head or if I’m unwilling to go there, but I don’t feel like I quite did it.

2019 Habit: Minimizing Digital Entertainment

Self Grade: 8/10

I ended up averaging 1.98 hours per week of digital entertainment, just slightly under my goal of 2 hours. I stayed under my target amount (which varied by quarter) on 37 of the 52 weeks.

I had been making great progress into the summer but saw a bit of a regression this winter. Some of that is expected seasonal patterns. I had originally hoped to maintain my low summer levels of digital entertainment as winter set in, but ended up relaxing my target a bit as reality kicked in. Even with that, I can tell I regressed a little more towards the end of the year. I had a plane ride where I watched shows I didn’t even care about and I signed up for Disney+ which got me hooked on one show I hadn’t planned on (The Mandalorian).

Here are the results from Q4. In the beginning of 2019 I had planned on having Q4 have a 2 hour per week target, but after a successful summer I decided to shoot for one hour. After the first few weeks, I decided two revert to the original 2 hour plan – mainly due to the reality of long, dark, cold days (and Baby Yoda).

Here is the full year’s worth of data, including the average line, which finished at just under two hours.

 

Related to this, in 2018 I had tracked a secret goal that I wrote about before and after to reduce the ratio of consumptive vs productive entertainment activities.

Previously in 2017 & 2018 my ratios were 1:2.5 & 1:3.95.

In 2019 the ratio changed to

Books read: 8.5
Books listened to: 0
Significant blog posts written: 5
Total Productive: 13.5

Movies watched: 24
Video Games Played: .5
Graphic Novels Read: 6
TV Show Seasons Watched: 2
Consumptive Total: 32.5

Ratio – 1:2.4

So this is forward progress.

Interestingly, the consumptive number was actually down a lot from the previous years, and I read more books than either of those years. The thing that hurt me was not writing as many blog posts. It turns out but I didn’t read as much as I had those years. If I had written three more blog posts, my ratio would have dropped to under 1:2. I think that means my weighting is a bit off as I can usually write a blog post in a night or two where as reading a book often takes me a few weeks to get through.

2019 Exemplar: Nelson Mandela

Self Grade: 9/10

This year I learned a good bit about Mandela and in July I published my exemplar review for him.

One of the things I learned from him was the ability to remain engaged in a debate but to let time, rather than talking, win it.

I’ve gotten a chance to put this into practice a few times at work. One recent & unannounced project is near to my area of expertise and it was originally heading in a direction that would have resulted in a lot of extra work for my team and frustration for customers. I didn’t own this decision and due to the number of things on my plate, wasn’t able to devote a major portion of my time to it to help steer it.

Instead I was clear about my top concerns and a better solution. I periodically communicated that 1:1 to the right people, even when it seemed like the critical mass of people involved were spinning a bit. The end result (so far, we’ll see for sure when it finally goes live) is essentially what I was pushing for. Getting there took much less of my effort than being deeply engaged would have though, which was the big win.

2019 Bucket List Item: Run the Wonderland Trail at Mt. Rainier

Self Grade: 9/10

Sometimes you achieve something because you put in the hard work preparing for it. Sometimes you achieve something because you’re stupid and stubborn and just keep pushing through pain. My run around Mt. Rainier was the latter.

Despite encounters with a mountain lion, two bears and a sprained ankle, I managed to complete the ~93 mile run, self-supported in under 48 hours. It wasn’t pretty, but it counts. Read the adventure report here.

As a bonus bucket list item, also appropriate to the long-suffering theme, I rode my bike around Mt. Rainier. The one day 150 mile ride, called RAMROD was something I’d had my eye on for a while and when a few coworkers signed up, I decided to join them. Read the ride report here.

What I Learned About Long-Suffering

My theme for 2019 was long-suffering. I selected it because it stood out to me as an important quality in shifting my focus towards goals with longer horizons, which has been a growing priority for me. I’ve found I’ve done quite well at taking on projects that last from months to a year or so, but I don’t have many goals I am specifically working towards that have longer in horizon than that. I am at a point in my life where I want to have more of those though, hence this focus.

Throughout this year I took on various efforts that would help me learn about different aspects of long-suffering in order broaden my understanding of the topic. Here are some of the things that I learned.

1. First I should define what long-suffering means to me. I really like the definition: ‘patiently enduring lasting hardship’. The one thing I might like to correct is that this definition seems a bit passive. Both the words ‘patiently’ and ‘enduring’ feel like they imply someone sitting there bearing something – be it something as benign as waiting in line or as gruesome as physical torture. I’ve found that often long-suffering is very active in nature though. I was surprised to learn how active Nelson Mandela was during his time in prison. I had erroneously assumed those were mostly wasted years in his, but in fact, during his prison time he was constantly doing everything he could to advance his cause. Sometimes this was on a very local level, like protesting in the prison for his right to wear pants. But during his prison years he was also meeting with world leaders and writing what would become the start of his autobiography.

2. Passion is a necessary part of long-suffering. In fact, the best way to measure how much someone cares about something might just be to see how much they will suffer for it. Interestingly, the latin roots of the word patience are closely tied to the word passion, which makes a lot of sense. It is literally the property of suffering for what we care about.

3. I have found that sometimes what you care about can get a bit muddled. Do I care about running fast because it is intrinsically important to me, or do I want to be known as the person that did it? History is littered with stories of people that said they cared about one thing, that was nicely disguising their true (though perhaps not even acknowledged consciously by them) goal. Does Elon Must really want to save humanity, or does he want to be remembered as the person that did? Perhaps a bit of both.

4. I have seen this muddling result in a drop off when it is pushed too far. Tech companies are famous for their grand visions of transforming the world, but often making a lot of money ends up being the real priority. I’ve written before about how the people that care more about one of those often need the help of the people that care about the other. It is interesting that both need to see how theirs will be true in order to push through the hard work that rapidly growing companies always are.

5. Even when striving for a goal that will take decades to accomplish, it is really important to have milestones along the way. Whether it is place to rest, or just accomplishments to feel like at least that much is secured. Dealing with incredibly long periods of waiting is mentally challenging and comes with increased risk. Making slow and steady progress in smaller increments comes with many benefits. So my moving towards 20 year goals doesn’t mean I have to give up having one year goals, it just means that more of my one year goals will string together towards a common long term goal.

6. I previously wrote some about how uncertainty can greatly hinder ones ability to endure. It is no wonder the prison guards didn’t want Nelson Mandela and his allies reading news from the outside that showed they had support. Without that knowledge, they might have eventually felt their struggle wasn’t worth it and given up. But with the knowledge that those outside were supporting and watching them, it gave them the strength to continue on.

7. The certainty needed must entail; the goal being meaningful, the impact being possible, and the strategy being fruitful. I’ve watched business leaders lose the ability to push their teams, not because the mission had changed, but because there was no belief in the current strategy. I have seen this both at a team level, where momentum just slowed down, as well as at an individual level, where someone stopped believing they could get a promotion, and so stopped working hard for it, and thus fulfilled their belief.

8. Conversely, sometimes just changing one of those items can boost someone’s ability to endure. Perhaps they still agree the goal is important and possible but they stopped believing in the strategy. Maybe a competitor has a slightly different take on things and that is enough to encourage them. Or maybe it is the same exact strategy, but they are just more willing to believe it from someone new. I suspect this belief is at the heart of a lot of companies, sports teams, countries, etc. changing their leaders and repeating the same patterns – they just needed a little bit more of something to believe in.

9. This year my long-suffering was mostly independent, but as I suffer for the strategies of others and as others suffer for mine, it is important to remember how important belief in both the mission and strategy is in people’s willingness to sacrifice for a goal. I have found big goals always require a lot of sacrifice and the people that are able to figure out what it is that a person cares about, and frame the impact in that way successfully, are able to get that sacrifice from others.