2017 Focus: Half Year Update

With the start of a new year, I take the time to set my focus for the coming year. I believe that by focusing on fewer goals, I can achieve results that are exponentially greater than the sum of the results from doing many things.

I detailed my 2017 focus here (read that first if you want more context) & did a quarter year update as well. Here is how I’m progressing.

2017 Theme: Sabbath Year

2017 Challenge: Define & Launch A Sabbath Year

My sabbath year will be launching on July 13th, 2017. After about five years of considering, exploring and planning, we are finally here.

I recently wrote about our general sabbath year principles along with specific plans we have for this year’s iteration. With those completed and the launch forthcoming, it looks as if this challenge will be completed shortly.

2017 Habit: Time Outside With Family

When I picked seven hours as the goal, it seemed achievable yet difficult. I did it based on a bit of data I had from previous years that I collected during an unrelated tracking experiment. During the first quarter I achieved about a 50% success rate, which suggested to me that the target was pretty good – possible but hard enough I had to work for it.

The second quarter has been a different story. I’ve been successful 100% of weeks and my average is actually over 10 hours – with the progression showing a steady climb up to 15 hours during the last week of the quarter.

What changed? It turns out, it is in fact a lot easier to be outside when it is warm, light and dry than when it is cold, dark and wet.

In the second quarter, the daytime temperature hasn’t dropped below 50*. The days have stayed in the 50s and 60s – more recently climbing into the 70s and even the 80s a few times. So far, as it has gotten warmer, the amount of time I’ve spent outside has increased. It only got so warm that it was hard to be outside once, when it hit the 90s and even then we just stayed in the shade. I defend that 70* is the perfect temperature and 50-90* is the ideal range to be in 95% of the time.

Along with the weather changing, the days have gotten longer. To give you an idea about how dramatic the difference in light is – look at this chart showing the type of light. In the summer in Seattle there are only about 1-2 hours of real night level darkness where as in the winter it is above 10. That makes a huge difference in the number of activities it is possible to easily do outside after work.

In fact, due to all of those changes, it is so easy to go outside that it is getting harder to tack our outdoor time. It used to be easy because there were such clear barriers between inside & outside time. We spent 10+ minutes getting ready to go outside between chasing down jackets, hats, gloves, etc. for 2-5 of us. Now we just wander in and out – not having to change layers at all – which makes accounting for time trickier.

Here are some data about Q2.

For activities, the leaders from Q1 remain popular – walks, the park & running. The new addition is hanging out in the yard which is our second most popular activity by frequency – thanks to a slide, trampoline and it being warm enough to get out the water play table.

Looking at who I spend outdoor time with – the general trends are the same. I end up doing a lot with my two boys – the two older children. The second most popular is having my wife and daughter join us as well for a full family outing. I did manage to clock time in almost every permutation of family during this quarter, which is cool.

Hunter, my eldest, edged out Theo this quarter for a few reasons – his bedtime is later and it is still light during that time so we often run an errand on the bike or do something in the yard, like splitting wood. He has also only taking afternoon naps 50% of the time, which means there is often a mid day opportunity to do something. I do want to keep an eye on the balance though – an unintended learning from this data set.

Finally, here is a collage that includes pictures of a few of my favorite outdoor activities from Q2: hanging out in the yard, various beaches around Seattle, Tulip Town, local parks and bike rides

2017 Exemplar: Eric Liddell

I am about to finish the biography about Liddell that came out recently – For the Glory. I want picking an exemplar to involve more than just reading a biography every year though so I have a few more things planned for the second half of the year.

First I plan to read the one book he wrote – a devotional study. It’s creation is mentioned in the biography and one of his close friends and co-workers notes that his character is well reflected by the writing. That should be a good way to get to know more about what made him click.

Finally, I happen to be going to Paris later this year, the place Liddell won his Gold Medal in the 400 meters during the 1924 Olympics. I’m going to see if I can get on the actual track and log a lap to compare splits. That seems like an apt way to walk a quarter mile in his shoes.

I really wish going to China was an option to see the area around Xiaozhang (the rural area he worked in for a number of year) & Weihsien (the internment camp he eventually died in), but that likely isn’t possible in the near term.

2017 Focus: Quarter Year Update

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 detailed my 2017 focus here (read that first if you want more context). Here is how I’m progressing.

2017 Theme: Sabbath Year

2017 Challenge: Define & Launch A Sabbath Year

The launch of my sabbath year is slowly becoming a real thing. I’ve taken the first steps to put it into action and begun to lay out logistics.

After years of keeping the topic limited mostly to family & close friends, I recently gave my work concrete notice. I had roughly suggested the idea previously to my manager and one of the founders, but there was no firm timeline or next steps associated. There are still a lot of details to figure out, but the fact that I will be taking a leave from the workforce is looking fairly certain at this point.

As of now, it looks like the start date will be mid-year – sometime between now and August. This means I need to accelerate my planning a bit more as I’ve been somewhat light on that to date. I’ve not come in any danger of going over the seven hour a week planning limiter that I set for myself.

Along with planning logistics, I have done some rough thinking on the overall philosophy of a year of rest. Funny enough, more than a handful of people in my close circles are going through similar processes of taking rest or time away from their primary labor. Though most of those are shorter, in the few month range, their philosophies often share common motivations so we’ve been able to have some great discussion.

2017 Habit: Time Outside With Family

This year I renamed this particular focus item and changed a few things about it. So far I am extremely happy with the result of that process change. It has encouraged the right behaviors, repeatedly, without any strange side effects or end-of-year rushing.

To give one concrete example, I start my week on Monday, so by Sunday I am usually aware of how much time I have remaining to hit my weekly goal and trying to find extra minutes where I can. Walking to church takes about 20 minutes while driving takes about 10 – I typically prefer my mental state after walking but often time pressure & the weather push me towards driving. Lately the extra 40 minutes of outside time has helped tip the scales the other way though and I’ve been walking, even if it is cold or a bit rainy. To me that is one example of a decision I wanted to influence this year.

One process change I might consider in the future, however, is a phased ramp up where the goal is slightly easier at first and progressively gets harder during the year. For this year particularly I suspect Q3 is going to be really easy to hit 7 hours per week on account of the nice weather, long days & my break from a day job. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few weeks hit the 30 hour range.

As for results, of the 13 weeks in the first quarter I’ve managed to hit the seven hour goal 7 times.

This might seem unimpressive, but it was actually quite hard. Seattle winters are cold, wet & dark – none of which make being outside with toddlers easy and all of which increase the time overhead of getting outside (putting on jackets, shoes, gloves, hats, etc.) On top of that I am at work during the day during the week which means there are only a few hours where I am home and the kids are awake and those are usually hours where I’m doing wake up or bed time routines.

I realized how aggressive the seven hour goal was during a recent vacation to warm weather. My total for the week was only 16 hours and I had nothing to do but be outside. A lot of time is eaten up by nap times, meals (minus a few picnics) and driving to sights we wanted to see. I also took some me time to surf which doesn’t add to the total.

So far I’ve found that if I can get ~2 hours logged by Friday I can usually fit the other 5 in over the weekend.

To get some interesting data, along with recording time, I’m keeping track of what activity we took part in and which family member I was with.

We can see that our primary activity is walking – we do a lot of that around our neighborhood on account of the low overhead. A few blocks at toddler pace takes about a half hour, which is usually all I can fit in after dinner.

Most of my time outdoors is spent with the boys, or as an entire family. It is not very often that I have all three kids by myself and am outdoors on account of taking all three out is really hard. I have not once been outside with just my baby girl – I’ll need to change that in Q2. I have been outside with just Suzanne a few times, but I guess I didn’t log those – another thing to correct.

I will add that on top of that time shown in this table, I also spent another 31 hour outdoors without any family members. This includes runs by myself, surfing and activities with non-family members. I’m excited that less than 1/3 of my total outdoor time was solo this year, discouraging that was part of the motivation behind this goal. (I don’t have great baseline data on this from last year unfortunately.)

Finally, here is a collage that includes pictures of a few of my favorite outdoor activities from this year so far: New Years polar bear swim, bundled up, running, gardening, picnicing and playing in the snow.

2017 Exemplar: Eric Liddell

I started my study on Liddell by watching the movie that most people know him from, Chariots of Fire. It had been a long time since I’d seen it and this time I had something particular to pay attention to. I really enjoyed the movie.

I am now reading a biography about Liddell that came out recently – For the Glory. This seems to be the most in depth one written to date, so the timing is fortunate.

What is obvious about him so far is his work ethic and concern for others. Neither of which was my focus for this year, but perhaps I’ll learn more about his sabbath and rest in time.

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.