2015: Goal, Theme & Challenge – Review

At the beginning of 2015 I wrote about my goal, theme and challenge for the year. I’ve posted a few updates throughout the year but want to take some time now to do a final review.

2015 Goal: Read 26 Books

Self Grade: 5/10

My goal was to read 26 books – I finished at 12.

This was just a miserable failure. I was certainly busy but I know for a fact that with time I spent playing through a few video games and watching a number of movies, I could have accomplished this with only consumption time.

To be fair, I believe this is the most books I’ve ever read in a year. Last year I read 17 but 6 were audiobooks. I had also strived to read more fiction, which 8 of the 12 were.

The complete list includes:

    • The Omnivore’s Dilemma
    • Death on the Nile
    • No Country for Old Men
    • Fluke
    • A Scanner Darkly
    • Managing Brand Equity
    • The Kite Runner
    • 7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness
    • Life of Pi
    • The Great Divorce
    • Steppenwolf
    • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

2015-reading-end-of-year-summary

2015 Theme: Live Slower

Self Grade: 8/10

The key difference between my themes and goals is that the goal should be something relatively simple that I want to repeat in a measurable way to build a habit, while the theme is something I want to think about and practice, but I am not yet obliged to form it into habit.

That is all to say that I don’t think I actually went much slower this year, but I did think about it a good bit and was able to dip my toes in the water of it.

Resting is now a category of activity in my mind. It wasn’t before.

I leave 2015 having experimented with savoring moments – enjoying them deeply instead of just moving on to accomplish the next thing. I look forward to doing more of this.

2015 Challenge: Summit Mt. Whitney

Self Grade: 10/10

In August I summited the mountain along with a few friends.

This was a challenge I knew would be pretty easy. It was certainly a grueling hike and it took a lot of coordination to get permits and wrangle together three friends that now live thousands of miles apart. But of the three challenges I have done to date, this is the one where there was highest chance of success (and probably least chance of death – which are not necessarily correlated).

whole-group-whitney-summit

Living Slower: Selecting Activities Intentionally

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.

  • Survival
  • Labor
  • Social
  • Family
  • Spirit
  • Mind
  • Expression
  • Body
  • Distraction

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.

Filling Buckets

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.

Selecting Activities

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.

Final Thoughts

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.

Living Slower: Productivity & Rest

When I started thinking about rest, I had this vision in my head of a spectrum where rest was at one end and productivity was at the other. That made sense to me. You were either working hard or you were resting.

I realize now that I had it wrong. Rest & productivity are two separate axis, like this.

productivity-and-rest

All things we can do with your time fall somewhere in this space. But before I can talk more about how we can & should spend our time, I need to define the terms.

Productivity: That which fulfills your purpose or helps you get closer to it.

I had a limited view of this term when I started thinking about it. I was thinking of productive as synonymous with efficient – getting a lot done – but this is in fact a huge misconception. You could be getting a lot done or be very busy but not at all productive.

Productivity is doing those things that are help you complete your life purpose. The nice thing is that what you define as productive will be determined by how you define your life purpose.

If your goal was to reduce humanity’s use of oil, anything you did that got us closer to using less oil would be productive, like founding an electric car company. Some things you could do wouldn’t be directly in line with that purpose but might help you have a better chance at succeeding later on, like getting an MBA. In that sense, getting an MBA is somewhat productive, though you introduce uncertainty as you remove yourself one step from your purpose.

You can have multiple facets to your purpose, and as such, there will be many different things that are productive for you.

Rest: That which recharges a facet of your being.

My view on rest tended to focus on physical rest. But other rest is important to. I realized that many things that are exhausting physically are actually fairly restful mentally – like going for a run after work.

Since there are many parts of you (physical, mental, social, emotional, spiritual), there will be many different ways you can rest.

Now, you can make an argument that rest is productive because it is necessary to do anything else. But that is sort of the macro point of my year. If I rested enough I wouldn’t need to spend a year thinking about rest. Since I don’t naturally tend to rest enough, I’m thinking about it as a distinct item here.

The Productivity Rest Line

Back to our grid of productivity and rest. We can imagine a line running from high-rest low-productivity all the way to low-rest high-productivity. If we plotted every way we spend our time, our goal would be to be on or above this line.

productivity-rest-line

 

We generally know that being productive takes work and that is often exhausting – but that is the trade off we make. We also know that we need rest, and that we’re often not productive when resting – though I’d love to hear about anyone that has figured out a way to get work done while asleep.

We have to balance our time on this line. If we spend too much time at high productivity and low rest, we will suffer physically & mentally (burn out, illness, depression, etc.)

Productivity & Rest Zones

But everything we do won’t fall exactly on that line. Some things will veer off of it. Two particular areas that I realized I needed to be aware of are high-high & low-low.

productivity-rest-key-zones

 

That area in the top right that is green is the sweet spot. If you can ever find something that is highly productive & highly restful, you should probably spend as much of your life as possible doing that.

On the opposite side, there is that red box of low productivity & low rest. If you ever find yourself doing something like that, you are not getting sufficient value for your time.

Filling out the rest of the space, anything that is close to or above the line is probably a decent way to spend your time. Colored light green here.

Anything below the line is probably not a great use of your time. Marked in light orange here.

productivity-rest-all-zones

 

Now you’ll notice that I marked the middle area as light orange, meaning it isn’t the best use of time. This goes back to a post I wrote on increasing variance. I think that spending too much time at mid range restfulness & productivity isn’t a good idea. It is monotonous. I think we’re much better off by having bursts of high productivity, followed by periods of rest. Fertile land is that which gets rain for part of the year and sun for another part.

Real World Application

Now that we have a way to think about how we spend our time, what does it look like to put that into practice? Here are a few examples I came up with.

The first is a very basic example of what an animal or early human probably experienced. The simple life. You are either hunting for food or sleeping. One is necessary for your survival and the other is necessary to recharge so you can repeat the process.
productivity-rest-primal

 

We’ve of course complicated things, so here is another example, this is how I see some of the things I might do on the weekend.

productivity-rest-at-home

 

I’ll elaborate.

In the sweet spot you’ll see ‘hiking with my son’. As a parent, I’ve decided that raising a family is one of my life purposes, so any quality or quantity time I spend with my children is productive. Hiking, though physically exhausting, is one things I’ve found to be very restful for me. Being outdoors helps my mind calm down. As such, being outdoors with my son is one of the best uses I’ve found of my time.

At the far opposite side you will see ‘Reading the News’ which could really be a whole lot of other time wasting internet reading that I often get sucked into. It isn’t helping me with anything and it isn’t particularly restful, as noted by my eventual physical & mental exhaustion after doing so for a while.

Here is another example – this one is about football. I love football, and it takes form in my life in many different ways. Not all are equal however.

productivity-rest-footballPlaying football for me is mid-level productive for a few reasons. First, it is good exercise, and being healthy is one thing that is core to my purpose. Having a strong body allows you to do much more, both in terms of experiences and in terms of freedom from illness and setbacks that would detract from your purpose. Second, playing football is somewhat social – which is a large part of my purpose.

Watching football on the other hand, is sometimes social, but not physical. The social aspect is usually somewhat shallow as well. I have it as low productivity but high rest. The reason it isn’t more restful is that watching games can actually be overstimulating – there is a lot going on. Additionally, watching the team I root for, the Atlanta Falcons, hasn’t been very restful the past few years as the team has been doing quite poorly.

Finally is Fantasy Football. Everyone’s experience with fantasy football is different, but for me it isn’t very restful. I am extremely competitive so I end up spending a lot of time trying to arbitrage the market by predicting injuries and picking up players on speculation and then attempting to trade them. It is fun, but in a very hard work kind of way. The big issue is that it is hard work that is not at all helping me towards my life purpose.

Final Thoughts

Now that I have a model, there are a few things I would like to do. One is to codify in a bit more detail my purpose, so that I can accurately measure things in relation to it. Another is to document activities and get data to verify how productive and restful they are.

Once I do this, I think this model will help as I look at how I spend my time. It should give me something more concrete to use when applying value claims to that data which I’ve been collecting for almost a decade but not yet found a ton of use for.