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

2016-goal-writing

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

2016-exemplar-benjamin-franklin
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.

Health: Finding My Limits

When optimizing, the goal is always to maximize the output for a specific investment of inputs. Those inputs are typically things like money, time, effort, materials, space, etc. We want to get more bang for our buck, results for time put in, etc.

No optimization problem operates in a vacuum though. There are always constraints – limits that keep the equation from scaling linearly forever.

These might be hard constraints that stop you in your tracks. Perhaps the constraint is the number of available outputs. If you’ve already trained enough to win a race, you can’t double-win it.

Or perhaps they are soft constraints. that create strange non-linear scale, either in a positive or negative manner. Perhaps the first 100 units of output can be achieved at a ratio of 1:1 input to output, but the next 100 require 3:2 input to output. This means that over time you have diminishing returns. In fact, in reality, this is almost always how it works.

I’ve been thinking about constraints a lot lately. I am hitting my limits.

I’m trying to do a lot these days. It often feels like time is the limiting factor. I have pretty well prioritized what I do, but even so I have a ton I want to accomplish. Most days I wake up and immediately start working or taking care of babies, the day is essentially non-stop (mostly pre-booked on my calendar) until I go to bed. When I go for a run, it is often at 8 or 9 PM since that is the first open slot I have. It certainly feels like I need more time.

That is of course a fallacy. In fact I have just as much time as I’ve ever had. Every single day I’ve been alive I’ve have completed 24 hours of activities (daylight savings and cross-timezone travel non-withstanding).

The limiting factor must be energy then. I could get a lot more done if I could operate at 100% output all of the time. Most of my 24 hours I’m operating at a lower % than that. Shoot, I’m sleeping for 25% of the day. If I didn’t require sleep every night but could instead operate at 100% capacity during that time, I could get much more done. Energy is the culprit – kilojoules (kJ) per day (or calories for you non-metric folk). We often hear about counting calories in terms on losing weight, but I mean this more in the sense of how a car burns fuel. A car will keep driving as long as you keep pumping that sweet petroleum energy into it. That is all I need, more calories in, and I can keep operating at high output.

Of course not. The limit here is something else. It doesn’t scale that way. Eventually I break down – and by me I mean my body, specifically my mind and my immune system. When I ask too much of my input systems, I get sick. I either get a physical sickness, like a cold, and have to slow it down for a bit (usually in bed). Or I get a mental sickness, like burnout and have to slow it down for a bit (preferably on a beach).

But the great thing about the body is it adapts. It can be stretched and it can be optimized. Most people do this without thinking about it in such upfront terms. They just do more and more over time and eventually adapt. Like a person that enjoys running and eventually runs a marathon without ever starting an official training plan, they ease their way into it.

Of course without training properly the chance of injury increases. Some people don’t properly train for a marathon and injure themselves. Some people do the same with trying to get more done. They think they’ve found a secret but in reality they are building up debt in some system that eventually collapses – be it high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, emotional breakdown, etc.

That is why we follow a training plan, why we research, why we measure ourselves over time to make sure we aren’t breaking down as we build up. We get a coach and setup feedback loops. We improve how we improve ourselves.

In 2016 I am thinking about health. Physical and mental health will be two of the topics I spend time exploring. From the writing above I think you can gather that my ideas of heath are currently pretty utilitarian and somewhat nontraditional. This year I will be exploring those ideas a bit more.

2016 Focus: Goal, Theme, Challenge & Exemplar

With the start of a new year, I take the time to set my focus for the coming year. I’ve enjoyed this activity as it has slowly evolved over the past four years. It helps me strive to complete things that I think are important or interesting but more importantly it give me focus by allowing me to say ‘no’ to other things.

Categories

Here are definitions for the four categories of efforts I undertake.

Goal – Something I want to accomplish that is measurable and relatively continual. e.g. exercise X times per week or decrease sugar consumption by X percent. These are often habits I want to build into my life an my hope is that by doing it for a year, it will stick.

Theme – A central topic for the year – something I can spend time thinking about and take a few concrete efforts towards. e.g. living in community or freedom. These are often abstract ideas that are hard to measure but important to spend time focusing on.

Challenge – Something I want to conquer. Crossing an item off my bucket list. e.g. climb Mr. Everest or learn to tight rope walk. These are binary, I either complete them or I don’t.

Exemplar – (new for 2016) A person that exemplifies something I value and who I want to model habits, process or ideas from. I will spend time learning a bit more about what made them tick and try to put a few of their ideas into practice. e.g. Steve Jobs or Teddy Roosevelt

2016 Focuses

2016 Goal: Write 50 Blog Posts

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I’ve written over 100 blog posts over the last 5 years. Mostly as a way of documenting things I’m thinking about for my own purposes, but sometimes to share them.

I enjoy writing on a public blog because it holds me to a higher standard. I realize people might read it and so I put more effort into it than I would a journal. Sometimes people do actually read it and I always enjoy the conversation that follows. Whether they agree or disagree – I learn something more through the conversation.

This year I got a bit of a taste of success. Of my 15 substantial blog posts, one went viral and racked up over 100k reads – also getting republished on qz.com. I really liked that experience and got a ton of positive feedback.

I’m going to lean into that and practice this skill a bit more in 2016. Along with exploring more topics, I will likely focus some on the craft of writing, learning more about how I can hone my voice and effectively communicate to a large audience through writing.

One post a week should be prove a manageable though challenging volume – the good news is I already have 20 drafts in various stages. Look for more posts on topics like; minimalism, heath (my theme of the year), parenting, product management, running and inevitably some politics (see who my Exemplar is below)

2016 Theme: Health

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

Heath is an abstract concept to me. I think I can spot its opposite when I see it, but I don’t know that I have a firm definition for its presence.

I already feel heath is an important thing to have, but I want to spend this year defining exactly what it is, how I measure it and what I can do to ensure it is with me for as long as possible.

I hope that in doing more research I will learn about new facets of heath and begin to synthesize them with what I already know. That will allow me to create a more unified perspective that I can begin putting into practice.

2016 Challenge: Run a Sub 2:37 Marathon

2016-challenge-marathon

Running is probably the thing I am best at from a percentile point of view. I’ve been doing it competitively for over 20 years, have a body well designed for it and have the mental toughness to train and race at a high level.

Because of that, I am really pushing the bar this year. I usually like to strive for being in the top 5-10% at an activity I put time into. Running a 2:37, however, would put me in the top 1% of marathon finishers (top 0.2-0.5% actually) and qualify me for the Boston Marathon with ~30 minutes to spare.

To do it, I will have to maintain an average pace of just under 6 minutes per mile for the whole 26.2 miles.

2016 Exemplar: Benjamin Franklin

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

The idea for this new category actually came to me last week as I finished his autobiography. I kept coming across practices of his I wanted to borrow for my own life. This seemed like a great way to do that.

Ben was a lot of things, but the one that stands out to me most is his intentionality and drive. He continually pushed himself to be better. From what I can tell, not necessarily as a means of achieving anything, but as an end in itself.

Because of that he went from humble beginnings to a position of much influence. Shoot, he is literally the face on the largest currency amount of the most powerful nation in the history of the world.

This year I will be learning more about him and implementing a few of his practices and ideas. (Air baths here I come…)