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.

The Day I Didn’t Run

It was January 1st, 2007.

The day before my flight from Prague to London had been canceled due to weather and I was stranded in the Czech Republic. I had finals in Ireland in two days and, needless to say, being present for those, passing my classes and getting school credit was very important to me.

I had been backpacking around Europe for the past two weeks. The way the school year worked out, my Irish University shut down for the holidays and hosted finals in the beginning of the new year. My college in the states, where I would return for the following semester, started a week later. I didn’t think it made much sense to fly all the back to California, only to fly back to Ireland and then to Pennsylvania, so instead I took all the money I had left and went on a two week trip around Europe.

My goal was to see as many cities as possible, albeit quickly, and also to run every day. Track season was starting a few months later and I needed to get into good shape. I took only a backpack with me – not one of those huge 70 liter camping backpacks either, just a small school bag that had a change of clothes, my running gear and a notebook I wrote poetry in. No electronics except my watch – the simple kind that only told time – I used it to see approximately how far I had run.

The trip started in the latter half of December. I flew from Ireland to Barcelona where I planned to get a Eurail pass that would let me travel as much as I wanted for 15 days. In order to make my limited amount of money last, I often took overnight trains so I didn’t also have to pay for a hostel.

Over that trip I visited Barcelona, Milan, Venice, Zurich, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Warsaw and finally Prague.

Some of my favorite runs ever were on that trip. I managed to run every day throughout December. Usually first thing in the morning I would get dressed and just start running. The cities have so much richness that I would inevitably stumble upon something interesting and historic (sometimes historical as well).

The runs were all very different too.

In Barcelona it was warm, even in December, I ran on the boardwalk in a t-shirt.

In Zurich I spotted a hilly wooded area and ran straight up – I stopped to stretch in a meadow and had such a peaceful experience viewing the city and lake – it remains a highlight of that trip.

In Paris I weaved through curvy streets and climbed stairs looking for a park or something – then I turned a corner and saw the most beautiful white cathedral I had ever seen. I had stumbled upon Sacré-Cœur unknowingly.

In Berlin, on Christmas Eve, I took off running on some trails to the west of the city. At some point heard sounds that I was sure were wild boar and took of faster – trying to ensure the Christmas feast was not reversed. I inevitably got horribly lost on the unmarked and winding trails. I eventually made it back to the city, but had no idea where in the city I was and couldn’t distinguish all of the German street names anyhow. I made it back eventually but ran twice as much as I had wanted to.

In Warsaw, on a day that was below freezing, old men sitting at the Park yelled something at me that I was pretty sure was Polish for “you are crazy”. I thanked them an continued on, hoping to finish before frostbite kicked in.

By the time I was leaving Prague, I was tired and ready to get home. I had seen a lot, not eaten much and washing my only pair of running clothes in the sink at night was not doing a satisfactory job of getting the stink out.

All flights were grounded because of the weather, I didn’t have much money to work with, and the earliest they could rebook me, on account of all of the other cancelled flights was three days away. The one thing I had going for me was my Eurail pass was still valid for two more days on account of a misunderstanding about what times the ticket office in Barcelona was open. (Hint: they are kind of liberal about that kind of thing). I ended up having to buy a single ticket to Milan and purchase my Eurail pass there, two days later. Thus, I still had an unlimited train pass.

Unfortunately it was late and there were no more trains leaving. I would be stuck in Prague until the morning.

My New Years plans went up in smoke since I would not be making it to London, where I had planned to go to a big celebration. I also knew finding a place to stay in Prague would be very difficult on account of people visiting for the celebration there – I had a hard enough time finding a bunk the preceding days.

I called an audible – I would go back to the hostel I had been at (where at least I knew a few people), toss my bag down and go celebrate in the public squares. Prague was known for its New Years eve celebrations after all.

Lo and behold, as I walked in to the hostel, the group I had been hanging out with for the past few days, about a dozen people from as many countries, was just walking out. They were excited and surprised to see me, everyone was bummed when I had left earlier that day. I tossed down my bag and we took off into the city. Within a few minutes I had fireworks in one hand and a bottle of Champagne in the other – we would shoot both off into the sky at midnight.

We got back to the hostel late enough that I just barely had time to grab my bag & freshen up before heading to the train station to get on the 5am westbound train.

I spent the day in a daze on a series of trains passing through stops whose name I could not make out on the loudspeaker. At one point, somewhere in the south of German, I woke up with my face pressed against the window, staring at a beautiful view of a lake and pine trees. It was something out of a story book.

Around 1am I hit the end of the line. There were no further options to go west that night. I was stuck in Brussels without a plan, place to stay, or much money.

Thankfully I had been there before, enough to know my way through town to a few spots. After walking around for 30 minutes I realized that none of the hostels had people working at 1am. Only the big hotel chains did and I couldn’t afford a few hundred dollars. By some stroke of luck I found a Chineese food place where the man was willing to rent me a room to sleep in. It was the kind of room where the door wouldn’t open all the way on account of bumping into the bed. It was the kind of room I was used to.

I put down my gear exhausted and pulled out my map to find a place to get a few miles in. It was now nearly 2am, I’d only had but a few hours of interrupted sleep over the past 48 hours and I had to get on another train at 6am if I had any hope of making it back in time for my finals.

I made the hard call to skip running that day.

I could count on one hand the days of running I had missed over the past few years. This was the type of circumstance that was required to separate me from the hard work I put in towards achieving my goals.

The next day I would take a series of trains, busses and boats over to France, London, Dublin and ultimately back to the University of Limerick. I arrived with plenty of time to take a shower before skateboarding over to my first final.

I don’t actually recall studying at all, and I certainly didn’t have any books with me, but looking back at my transcripts I seem to have done fine. Perhaps my first final was on European geography – I had just had a crash course in it that I would not soon forget.