With a new year upon us all, now seems as good time as any to pile on with everyone else’s reflections, predictions and life tweaks.
I’m a productivity enthusiast, which comes partly out of a passion for trying to extract the most ‘life’ out of my time here. Also, I find that I’m happiest when I’m slightly overwhelmed with goals. A few years ago I got into a phase of life where I was simultaneously in grad school, working full-time, interning for a VC fund, competing in triathlons and planning a wedding. I really enjoyed the discipline required to get all of that done. For whatever reason, operating at that pace makes me happy, and helps me enjoy downtime when I have it.*
As such, I’m always looking for new ways to make space on my calendar and in my head. These are a few things I’m doing right now to help with that:
1. Personal Quarterly Objectives
For the past five years, I’ve built out personal quarterly objectives for myself. I try to use the OKR format for these, taking a page out of business management frameworks for personal life management.
My objectives focus on career, personal relationships and health and wellness. Of everything I’ve done for productivity, this process is probably the highest leverage. Trying to figure out what you want to do for the next year, defining how the next three months can help get you there, and then reflecting on how you did, is simple and effective.
2. Reading and Listening > Browsing and Watching
I’ve been using most of my slack time to read books and listen to podcasts. given the choice between 15 minutes in a book versus 15 minutes browsing a social app, this one’s a no-brainer.
In terms of content, for books I’ve been mostly interested in narrative nonfiction (e.g. Michael Lewis), biographies (e.g. Walter Isaacson) and thought leadership pieces on politics, culture, technology and business. For podcasts, I’ve been listening to a lot of in-depth interview content that covers people’s life stories, or industry thought leadership. A few of my favorites right now are The Axe Files, FiveThirtyEight, a16z, and EconTalk.
It’s not easy to stay on this. The pull of scrollable content is strong. Here are a few tools I use to keep me on track:
- I’ve got a book list list of about 50 books and I’d like to cover about eight every quarter. Having a goal gives me something to focus on, and having a list removes the ‘what should I read next’ friction.
- I use Overcast to store podcasts on my phone for listening in the subway.
- I deleted all social apps from my phone. I still occasionally load Facebook from my mobile browser, but it’s definitely helped to not have five different apps with feeds and notifications for me to check.
- I use the Kindle App on my phone, and order paper books for home. I leave my phone in the kitchen at night so I’m not tempted to hop online.
3. Eating Less / Intermittent Fasting
This one is about a week old for me, but so far it’s been a great experience and I’m excited to share it. I read a blurb from Spring Chicken about the benefits of intermittent fasting, found some posts about how to do it and started trying it out. It’s shockingly simple — I don’t eat for 15–16 hours per day. I just stop eating around 9pm, and start again around noon or 1pm the following day.
A few observations:
- My energy level is higher, not lower
- I’m more focused and productive in the morning
- I drink a lot more water
- I find that even when I start eating, I’m not that hungry and I’m generally eating less throughout the day
- I still get to drink black coffee in the morning (!)
- I’m losing weight — but not a ton, and not in a way that feels unsustainable. This isn’t really a ‘diet’, or at least doesn’t feel like one to me. It feels more like a way to manage my energy.
4. Same Outfit
This one’s also easy, and removes another decision from my morning. At some point, I found an outfit that works for me and I bought five copies of it. Combined with skipping breakfast in the morning, I’ve removed the need to think through what to eat and what to wear when I wake up. While this sounds small, removing decisions from my morning allows me to focus on other things: planning my afternoon, spending time with my family, working out, etc. Easy win.
5. Paper for To-dos
I use a combination of Google docs and Evernote for taking notes, but I’m finding that running my personal to-dos on paper helps me remember them (because I have to write them), allows me full control (there’s no collaboration), and makes me feel like I’m making progress (crossing things off is amazing!)
That’s all I got. Happy optimizing and have a wonderful 2017!
(*As an aside, being a parent and running a company are exponentially more work than anything I’ve ever done, because both are endeavors in which your efforts are both high impact, and never sufficient. You’re never ‘done’ with either).