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

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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

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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

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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.

2016 Focus: Mid Year Update

With the start of a new year, I take the time to set my focus for the coming year. Now that the year is half way through (maybe a bit more) I want to check in on how things are going.

2016 Focus

At a macro level I am doing ok so far, probably as well as I will do. I have realized that I spread myself a bit too thin with these items this year though. Introducing a new one certainly exacerbated that. Having four items of focus is simply too many. Some of them have overlap, such as running & health – but others take me in a completely different direction.

One of the things I’ve learned and will change for my focus next year is to have the theme be a central item that the goal, challenge & exemplar all tie back to.

For example if health were my theme, my challenge should have been related – perhaps scoring something on a health test. The goal could have been something similar but continual, like averaging 7 hours of sleep per night. Finally the exemplar should have been someone who has made health a priority for them.

That will change in 2017, for now here is my 2016 update.

2016 Goal: Write 50 Blog Posts

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I have published 14 blog posts so far of the 30 I should have. In order to hit my goal I need to write about two per week through the end of the year.

Despite that not looking like much progress, I have 37 drafts in my queue at various stages of completed, 17 more than the 20 I started the year with. If I sit down with two per week and focus on finishing them, publishing 50 is still possible by the end of the year.

2016 Theme: Health

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

I have scratched the surface here.

Along with writing one blog post, it has been a topic that frequently raised to the forefront of my mind. I would like to get more words written down about this as writing really helps me think through things.

In addition I recently ordered one of the Great Courses on the topic of health myths. That has been interesting to listen to while driving and should fuel some additional though.

 2016 Challenge: Run a Sub 2:37 Marathon

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After training for seven months I raced my first marathon and finished in a time of 2:42:23. Still a few minutes away from the goal, but within throwing distance.

I am deciding now how to best give myself one more shot at succeeding.

2016 Exemplar: Benjamin Franklin

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Photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/6d8EGN

I’ve done the least with this item so far. Although I have a clear plan of some things I can attempt, those have been the lowest on my priority. I don’t know that I will attempt much more here other than finish reading his biography, which I am about a quarter of the way through.

Benjamin Franklin Type of Things

Earlier this year I made Benjamin Franklin my exemplar for 2016. That meant that I’d spend part of this year learning about his habits & practices and then implementing some. The idea is to learn from the wisdom of a great person and try to benefit from some of that myself.

Two months into the year I’ve narrowed into a few things that stand out to me about Ben.

1. Pursuit of Excellence in His Craft

Benjamin Franklins business & political success often draws back to a single asset he had available to him – his writing. He is cited by some scholars as being the best writer in colonial America. He used that talent to create a newspaper & almanac that drove both profited him and helped keep his print shop busy. He also used it to convince others of topics that were important to him such as the creation of a volunteer fire department or the adoption of the stove he invented.

His talent in writing wasn’t an accident though. Though he certainly had a gift for it, this was a well nurtured gift. He spent much of his early life reading everything he could get his hands on an analyzing the writing style and argument structure of that writing. He drew clear inspiration from his favorite authors and upon becoming familiar with them, it becomes clear that he wasn’t a singular outlier of brilliance, but rather a well disciplined craftsman hailing from a long line of great minds.

Applying this to my life will be somewhat similar – my craft isn’t exactly the same as his – though it is close. My talent is in story telling – something I’ve utilized in everything from making movies to building software, marketing products or analyzing data. What I do at its root is to take a mess of data points and opinions and simplify it into a compelling story. There are so many people that create brilliant stories and though I love them, I wouldn’t say I’ve applied as much rigor to learning from their style as Ben did. Doing this will be one way in which I emulate him this year.

2. Intentional Creation of a Network of Contacts

Benjamin Franklin’s role as a diplomat rather than president was no mistake. It was a perfect fit for his role. He is known for having a broad network of acquaintances who were especially valuable because of their willingness to help him. He was just the type of person people liked helping.

That network developed intentionally through his nurturing relationships, being willing to help others and being a great conversationalist. He also went out of his way to develop social gathering, volunteer groups, committees, etc. Many members of those groups went on to have success and they in turn drive some of that back towards Franklin, whether it was in the form of business for his printing shop, appointment into positions or donations to his various projects for public good.

Though I have the pleasure of calling many great people friends, I have never been very intentional about the process of networking. I just happen to like talking about certain topics & participating in certain activities and throughout the years have spent more time and build closer relationships with people who enjoy the same. This year I would like to take some intentional steps to think about the people I know, how I can stay in better contact with them and how I can help them more.

3. Works for the Public Good

Throughout his autobiography, Franklin spends a lot of time discussing various public good projects he initiated and his efforts in raising supporters. His common plan was to put together a plan and to get a number of able families to contribute on a monthly subscription a small sum to maintain the work. Some efforts included the hiring of a street sweeper, the fortification of the city, the construction of the speaking hall and university, among others. Many of the things our tax dollars pay for today were not available then and their presence in Philadelphia was first introduced thanks to Franklin.

Along with caring for others, it is clear that Franklin knew that a rising tide raises all ships. Almost all of the projects were on a local level and benefited the people of his city, which was of course a good thing for a local business owner. A city with good infrastructure would attract & support more residents, which would result in a growing local economy which would drive more business to his print shop and more potential subscribers to his newspaper. Many of the projects also directly benefited him through either creating work for his print shop or putting him in a position of authority.

As I reflect on how I could help the public, my first though it is to do it on a global scale, focusing on information distribution. That tends to be what I’m good at. I think there is something to learn from Franklins local projects though. My neighborhood isn’t in need of a street sweeper or library, but I can certainly think of a few local services and events that could gain local support if only they had a champion. The rising tide would of course benefit me as well in the increase of local quality of life.

4. Eagerness to Debate & Refusal to Argue

So adamant was Franklin’s pursuit of excellence, that he intentionally sought out the opportunity to debate topics. He formed a group he called the “Junto” in which members would bring position papers which others would then criticize. From it, he became very good at arguing and also very well informed.

It is obvious from his writing, and occasional public spats, that he liked being right. In his early 20s he decided that it wasn’t prudent to always strive to win arguments though – he felt it resulted in near term victory but long term loses. Because of that he adapted other styles of debate, refraining (usually) from personal attacks, direct contractions and such. There are pros and cons to that style of talk – it is one reason Ben likely wouldn’t have made a great President, but it certainly served him well.

Like Ben, I love to debate. I am prone to playing the devils advocate for the sake of learning. I find it much more entertaining to defend a point that not even I could agree with. Also like Ben, I like to argue, I’m prone to going for the jugular in a conversation. I could use a dash of Ben’s intentional tact. He clearly had some pride issues, much like I do, and so taking some learning here will likely do me well in the future as I deal with more delicate topics and less forgiving company.

5. Tinkering & Scientific Research

Aside from the story of the kite and lightning storm, Benjamin Franklin isn’t often thought of as a scientist – at least not in the way his contemporaries like Isaac Newton or the scientists of the 1800s were. But he in fact was an avid tinkerer and hails a number of inventions to his name. He had a collection of what he describes as ‘curiosities’ that he would show to guests and which seem from description to be akin to the type of science demonstrations we show to schoolchildren today.

One of my favorite stories is of Ben’s habit of taking air baths in the winter to avoid catching colds. At the time it was thought that being outside in the cold air got one sick, but he suspected fresh air was good for you and so in order to increase his exposure to it, he would sit outside completely nude for periods of time. It wasn’t until ~100 years later that we learned about germs and the illnesses they caused. It turns out he was mostly correct. (Though time might tell that being nude in fact helps too.)

I am a bit of a tinkerer myself and like to do some experimenting. Most of it is more social or productivity based than a study of the natural sciences (and I steer clear from electricity), but I’d like to change that. There are many fields ripe for experimenting today and I’ll soon have to show ‘curiosities’ to my children, so I guess I need a collection myself. This year I’ll look to tinker more.

6. Entrepreneurship

Along with running his own printing shop, Franklin engaged in a number of business ventures. One thing that stood out to me is that he was eager to use his skills, reputation & assets to setup a business partnership that the other party would run. He didn’t need an empire of things for him to oversee, instead he would rather have a stream of income – even if that were only 10% of the profits, leaving the other 90% to the person running the business. There was a lot of wisdom in this and we still see similar practices today in the worlds of private equity and venture capitalists.

I’ve started a number of projects over the years, but most of them were solo ventures that would eventually expire when my interest did. I’m not sure that I’ll have time this year to start a business, but I’d like to reflect some and at least ideate on how I could initiate a business that I would be an eventual minority stakeholder in.

BONUS: Use of Spreadsheets for Self Betterment

I couldn’t help but mention that Franklin used spreadsheets to better himself. There is no action here, but as I first discovered it, I felt a deep sense of joy and connection.

His particular exercise, which started on paper but later moved to an stone ‘dry erase’ tablet, involved tracking his moral failings.

I use spreadsheets to make a number of aspects of my life more efficient and to track others. I have no fewer than a dozen, of which I use a few every day. I find it much more helpful to have accurate data when making decisions.

For example the statement ‘I surfed only 12 times last year’ is more helpful than ‘I didn’t surf much in the last year’ because with the former I can quantify an acceptable level, for example 24 times, and implement a strategy to achieve it. With the latter I’m simply complaining. (FYI – I’m on track so far having surfed 4 times in 2016)

Honorable Mention: Industriousness in His Work

I would be remiss to talk about Ben Franklin’s best traits and not mention his industriousness. For any future readers, this would be one to include at the top of the list. For me, at this time, I don’t feel this is an area I need growth so I’ve excluded it from the actionable list.

Not only was Franklin one of the hardest workers, but he made it a point to make that known. He knew that hard work built trust which was as good for business as actual hard work was.

He described himself as often working from before breakfast until the wee hours of the morning. In his autobiography he quotes a time where he pulled an all nigher in order to finish a project on time that would otherwise been late because of an error on his part. One thing of note is that he did publish his daily schedule which consisted of two four hour work blocks – though nine of the hours of the day are described broadly as including meals, study, conversation & overlooking his accounts – not exactly Netflix.