Summary: How to prioritize and not suboptimize (2100 words)
A summer mindset to identify what makes you specifically tick, through metacognitive techniques and the 5 whys, rather than just trying to keep up with the Joneses
Hint: nr 1 prio is always your health
Bonus: FAQ answers on procrastination, suboptimization, 80/20, must have apps, my vices, life organization… And a little Brexit
I’m enjoying life to the fullest, travelling, partying, learning, socializing…, but I am struggling slightly with my commitments in terms of blogging and podcasting.
Both endeavors are rewarding no doubt, but I do find myself squeezing them in between my real life events of walking the dog, working out, watching Game Of Thrones, reading and listening to podcasts.
Perhaps it’s even a good thing my iPod just broke. Consequently I can’t comfortably listen to podcasts since two days back. It gave up right after leaving Ataturk airport in Istanbul shortly before the terrorist attack.
Anyway, life is about choosing among different priorities. “Deciding is the most precious human activity” (Napoleon). Actually, living is deciding, and without any decisions at all, there is no life.
Lately, I’ve been getting a few questions regarding priorities, from people listening to my podcast “25 minuter” (in Swedish unfortunately, except for episode 35 that was an interview with Edmund Lowman conducted in English – listen here on Soundcloud or find us on iTunes).
I thought I’d use this blog space to briefly address those questions, before heading off for another extended weekend of travelling and partying (in Visby – a medieval Swedish city, that becomes the center of attention during two specific weeks a year).
How to identify your main priority
That’s a tough one. Here are a few ways of doing it:
The 5 whys: Ask yourself why you’re doing something, or why you would try something. Whatever answer you come up with, ask yourself why that would be a reason. And then why the underlying answer would be worthwhile. Keep going until you hit rock bottom of your actual prime mover reason for any chosen or potential activity.
College, why? Job, why? Rich, why? Buy stuff, why? Impress guys, impress/attract girls, why? Start a family, why? Okay, could you start a family without taking the roundabout way of studying, making it, impressing people and so on?
Metacognitive positive feedback loop: Set your pattern recognition to identifying when and why you are happy. Do more of whatever provides deep, true and long lasting happiness and feeling of self actualization. I do that all day long; from the small things like watching the sky to deeper learning experiences.
Whenever I’m feeling particularly content, happy or peaceful, my metacognitive self chimes in and says “remember this, remember what happened here and try to do more of it in the future“.
Super mindset: Being metacognitive in all aspects of life is the best thing you can do for yourself. It enables feedback loops that reinforce themselves. You can use it on happiness, productivity, attraction etc. As soon as you turn your attention to something it becomes almost impossible not to get better at it.
Lateral living: Constantly try new stuff, perhaps using dice to decide your next project or direction. Spend 20 hours, 100 hours, 3 months, or whatever seems appropriate, and immerse yourself in one activity at a time. Sooner or later you’ll find something you won’t, hell, can’t let go of (for money or happiness reasons). Then apply deep work and deliberate practice in that area and become the best you can. That’s your priority.
Conventional: trying to prioritize between health, earnings/career, quality time with the kids, recuperation/rest. My 2 cents on this: Start with your health. That should always be your priority. You grab that oxygen mask immediately when the air pressure falls. Then you help people around you.
- Health: Just start walking and/or working out. 100 meters, 200, 1km, 2km. Introduce walking meetings inside or outside. Use that standing desk of yours. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, an hour… more or less the entire day.
- Food: Eat something healthy and rich in protein/fibers before eating whatever you usually eat. Keep protein powder, eggs, beans, cabbage, carrots etc at home and around your desk. Eat some of that before breakfast, lunch or dinner. Most likely you’ll eat less of your usual stuff. Do not starve yourself. Do not go hungry and apathetic, the remedy is to eat right, not little. Your microbiome will make sure you find a healthy weight without being too hungry, if you just stop feeding it garbage and/or starving it.
- Don’t burn out. Do not push it at work if you are close to burning out. First make sure you start moving around, then eating better, and hopefully sleeping better (cold, dark, no screens 30 minutes before and after sleeping). After that your job and your kids are your priority.
- Career – I can’t help you there. You do what you can, but in my opinion do not push yourself in order to make more money. Try cutting unnecessary costs instead: car, cable, eating/drinking out. How to work less while making more I can’t tell you, but the best place to start is doing something that doesn’t feel like work, not to mention something that is scalable and over time gets you to where you want to be. However, if it’s boring or feels like prostitution it’s not worth it. Do not trade your limited time for money.
- Quality time with your kids. This one is free at least. You adamantly do not need a penny to spend quality time with your kids. It only takes time, energy and imagination. On the other hand, I don’t have kids so what do I know. I do know however that spending quality time with friends is more or less free. So is spending time with my dog, my siblings, partners and so on.
Among the myriad other questions I get on how to run a hedge fund, what currency bets to take, top book picks, top apps, investment psychology, what to do together instead of drinking alcohol etc., I’ve chosen the following five for this post:
Ambitious people often get hung up on details and spend way too much time trying to be perfect.
Unfortunately that can lead to suboptimization and missing out on other activities. My 80/20 on this is to set a time limit for how long you are allowed to spend on something. Right now, e.g., I’m just hammering away on this post between gym and a dog walk in order to force myself to not spend hours upon hours on it
Sure, I want to produce quality articles, but I also want to take care of my dog and spend time on other activities. Giving myself just one single hour to write an article is a very good way to make sure it a) gets taken care o and b) doesn’t encroach too much on living
However, you first need to set your priorities straight, i.e., ask yourself what you really want and in what order.
Spend x hours first thing in the morning on Priority 1. Then, if you have any energy and ambition left spend a limited and pre-set time on priority 2, and then possible lower order priorities.
Imagine how you view what others are doing… Are you constantly gauging and judging their perfection? No? They probably aren’t paying that much attention to you either.
Do you strive for perfection for you and you only. Well, kudos yo you. That’s the way to go, you are not supposed to be a second hander living for others,… but in moderation. Set a limit, then move on. 80/20.
Organizing your life
Form habits. End of story.
Okay, not quite…
Form new habits every now and then, and scrap old habits.
The following are a few good tips on how to organize your life:
- Make a to-do list (and/or a not to do list) for the next day toward the end of the day
- Sleeping and taking care of your body (physically, mentally and nutrition-wise) are your main priorities. See comments above regarding sleep and nutrition. And if you’re Swedish, listen to “25 minuter” episode 36 on sleep and episode 37 on strength training.
- Use a commonplace to organize your knowledge and ongoing learning
- Personally, I work out every second day, I keep healthy food around the house, I walk the dog 3×1 hours a day, I write on my book, blog and record my podcast a few hours each a week. Whatever is left I use for reading, watching a few select TV series and hang out with friends. A caveat: I do not work, so I’m not your best role model.
On how to avoid postponing stuff
Just start. Usually the mere thought of doing something is worse than actually doing it. It doesn’t matter if it concerns shopping for groceries, going to the gym, vacuuming and so on. Trick yourself by saying: I’ll just vacuum one single room; then I can take another room another day. Or, I’l just head to the gym and walk slowly on the treadmill for 5 minutes, it’s better than lying in the sofa hungover.
Got a ton of clients to call? Call just one (that’s what you’ll tell yourself anyway)
Something needs fixing around the house? Get up, walk over to the problem. Touch it. What’s the least amount of work you could do on it? Tighten a screw? Buy a screw? Do that. My guess is that just starting will create its own momentum. By the way, when moving around let your gaze sweep over the house and “just pick up that pillow”, “just change that towel”, “just water that flower while passing it”, “just empty the dishwasher”.
Need to break up with your girlfriend or tell your boss you’re quitting. Do it without preparation. Just say it right away and consider it the start of a kind of negotiation. There is no good way of saying it anyway. They are grown up people, they knew the risks. If they overreact, that’s on them.
Temptation bundling – whatever you like postponing, such as your weekly mobility exercises, bundle it with something you really enjoy. I like to stretch my psoases in the couch during the GOT intro. Sometime I do a retake of the intro since it’s too short. Sometimes a bundling makes you long for and enjoy doing whatever used to feel like a boring chore.
And check out this amaaaazing post about procrastination by Tim at WaitButWhy. You can thank me afterwards in the comment section.
Just set limits. Manage your time as if you only have a limited amount. Perhaps treat your days as if they only have 22 hours, and thus always keep 2 hours completely off limits.
Only schedule your priority 1 stuff on certain days, e.g. Saturdays. No work related stuff, no boring in-laws, no compromises – Saturdays are only for you: reading, golfing, meditating, movies, computer games, writing on your novel, listening to really loud music.
Do not accept anything the least bit “not-you” on Saturdays (or whatever day you choose). People around you may get surprised, angry, ridicule you and so on, but in time the practice might spread. Hopefully. The absolute best is if you and your close friends or spouse perform your prio 1 activities together, given they are compatible.
Say no to boring meetings, to coffee with acquaintances you don’t really care for. Think hard about why you’re working so hard… Is it for you (right) or for somebody else (wrong if it entails impressing people, conspicuous consumption etc.). Work from home if you like it. If you don’t like your work, your balance is already fucked.
I use RescueTime to nudge me into working a little bit more on my creative endeavors (blog, pod, book), since I otherwise tend to goof off, playing with my dog or generally waste time.
My must have apps: Evernote, Whatsapp, RescueTime, (Twitter – it’s my news channel)
Worst vices and bad habits:
- When I party I like to drink a lot
- Trolling online
- Watching TV-series (however, right now I’m not watching any, after the season finales of GOT, Veep and Silicon Valley)
Ooops, my 65 minutes are up. Gotta go.
Summary? Summary, schmummary!
Prioritize your health. Always
As for the rest, listen to yourself instead of commercials and neighbors
And, for Mohammed’s sake: start a commonplace book. Use Evernote
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Brexit? What Brexit? Markets are back up again. I covered some 7% at the end of Monday and then sold half of it short again today. Good trades, but the other 97% are back to square 1.