This is Part 2 of an ongoing series on having two years to live. Read Part 1 here.
A quick recap- My grandmother died of pancreatic cancer in April of 2019. She was given two years to live by the doctors and the experience made me realize that I've been frivolous and wasteful with my time.
To counteract that, I'm working with the same constraints my grandmother was given- I'm assuming that two years from now, on November 2nd, 2021, I'll be struck by lightning or turned into a pumpkin, or whatever- my life will end.
So far, I haven't been able to think past the awkwardness and fear of it. Giving yourself a death date weirds people out. They get uncomfortable and defensive, even angry.
It doesn't make me feel much better. I feel panicky and afraid. I have thoughts like "what if I've cursed myself by putting a date on it?" Well, that's the point. Live as if you don't have all the time in the world.
Despite the awkwardness, there's incredible clarity. Dying in two years is a great decision filter to help understand what really matters.
So...how do you figure out what really matters in life?
Imagine you are dying right now. Not 2 years from now- you're dying now, at 22 or 73 or whatever your age is. Really visualize that you are out of time. Your health and mind are spent. What bubbles up?
This what came up for me.
Honestly, everything else that came up revolved around the same few regrets.
Doing this exercise made a few things very clear.
Kyle Eschenroeder wrote a fantastic article a while back called "What do you want to want?" and in it, he writes about the struggle between hedonistic and eudaimonic acts.
"Hedonistic desire is about taking from the world and one-upping others. Eudaimonic desires are about giving to the world, and leveling up yourself.
Hedonism is about appearing good; eudaimonia is about being good.
Hedonic acts are usually our defaults – most everything about our biology and culture cries out for us to take the path of least resistance and get ours.
Eudaimonic acts must largely be cultivated intentionally – swimming upstream until we can carve out a mindset in which the current is re-routed.
We can visualize the two kinds of desire on a continuum:
Eating Cake—–Working Out
Reading People Magazine—-Reading Nietzsche
Tweeting a Picture of Your Hamburger—–Writing a Book
Scrolling through Facebook—-Creating a Side Hustle
Some of the things on the left side are not necessarily bad–we all deserve a little cake now and then. Our goal then is not to completely eschew pleasure in our lives (unless we take pleasure in moral laziness, like letting crooks off the hook), but to have our desires lined up with eudaimonic aims most of the time. We should be looking for a shift of emphasis, rather than complete abstention."
Kyle goes further into this idea by talking about for categories in which we should aspire to shift towards the Eudaimonic.
Wanting an easy life—-Wanting a life of struggle
Wanting to be somebody (fame)—-Wanting to do something
Wanting extreme wealth—–Wanting a frugal heart
Wanting to be extraordinary——Wanting to enjoy the ordinary
I encourage you to read Kyle's article. He's an incredibly clear thinker and his article helped me clarify my goals through the "two years to live" filter, strip away the fluff and figure out what I actually want.
So-with two years to live, I'll spend my precious time and attention on the following:
Keep in mind, this isn't a complete list- just enough stuff to start. As I knock things out, more stuff inevitably comes up. The next step is to make a list of the specifics and start tackling the list.
Read Part 3: The Bucket List
"You are scared of dying–and, tell me, is the kind of life you lead really any different than being dead?" -Lucius Annaeus Seneca
My grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early 2017. After the doctors operated, they estimated she would have 2 good years left. In April of 2019, almost exactly two years later, she passed away.
Two years to live.
I'm sitting here writing and rewriting this and all that comes to mind is the two year sentence. 84 is a pretty long life and she accomplished a hell of a lot, but how do you face up to being told you have two years to live, at any age?
Think about how you'd react in that situation. For me, it's sobering. Nothing clears your head and lights a fire under your ass like being told you have a the Deadline coming up, and fast.
When I was learning Japanese in college, my preferred method of learning to speak was by partying with the Japanese foreign exchange students. On my first day, Toshiki, a 19 year old from Yokohama, taught me the curse words and 'Nampa' - flirting/seduction. I dutifully shared the English equivalent. We were immediately friends, and then he invited me to a house party.
These are not normal house parties. For one, you spend the first two hours cooking, which provides the snacks for drinking, and you get to know everyone by cooking with them. Then the party starts.
The Japanese invited the Koreans, who invited the French, who invited the Germans, who invited the Italians who argued about 'soccer' with the Germans, all exactly how I hoped they would. No one invited the guys from Kuwait because they didn't think girls should party & the girls felt uncomfortable, but later in the year they warmed up to the idea and showed up anyways. I was the only American in most of this and loved it.
The friendships are immediate and intense, as were the rivalries. You didn't dislike someone- you hated their guts. You didn't like someone, you pledged this lifetime and the next to them, nothing held back. I became best friends with Marie, a sun-kissed dirty blond who played soccer for the French Junior national team.
I remember a night about 8 months after we met. I heard her arguing with someone on the phone on the roof- we had jimmied the roof access door open inside the designated party apartment. Her call was loud and her arms were waving angrily. Not wanting to intrude, I gave her some space and came up a bit later. "What's up, you ok?"
She turned. Her eyes were wet but her expression was warm. She'd just demoted her boyfriend to ex-boyfriend. "What, why?" I wasn't expecting that, they'd been together for years. Her response- Because she really liked me. But she was scared- she left him without knowing if my feelings were mutual. "Brave girl," I thought.
The feelings were very mutual. We spent hours on the roof that night. It ended with "King, come to France. I'm going to marry you." Except she didn't say marry because the French replace the "rr" sound with this back of the throat purring thing. (I never went to France and I didn't marry her because I was 20 and broke). I'll never forget her.
The point is- my international buddies knew they had one year in California. One precious year under these magnificent circumstances and then a regression back to their ordinary and mundane lives. They would never be together in this place with these people, ever again, and it spurred them on.
There is a fire, a thirst for life, a purpose and urgency that come with understanding you don't have all the time in the world. They committed to living proactively because this year was it- there would be no do-overs. I think it rubbed off a little, because despite my mediocre grades I was conversationally fluent in Japanese in 7 months.
Here I am 7 years later, feeling a similar sort of urgency only on a much grander scale. My grandmother's two year life sentence made me keenly aware that life is ephemeral. I am alive under miraculous circumstances, and this is it. I want to etch this feeling into my being and know it in my bones, all the time.
I'm not the first to think this. Far from it.
Over 2000 years ago, emperor philosopher Marcus Aurelius wrote in his personal journal as a reminder to himself-
"Remember how long you've been putting this off, how many extensions the gods gave you, and you didn't use them.
...There is a limit to the time assigned to you, and if you don't use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return."
And then old Confucious, the man with a witticism and quote for everything,
"Every man has two lives. And the second one starts when he realizes he has just one."
There's also Memento Mori, and Vanitas paintings from the 17th century dedicated to the same idea. They existed to whisper from the walls- remember. Life is transient. You could die at any moment- do not forget it.
Remember me as you pass by
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, you soon shall be.
Prepare for death, and think of me.
Initially I thought so this was a pretty dark and depressing way of looking at things. I was wrong, because realizing you will die forces you to strip away the unnecessary bullshit you're usually preoccupied with.
Steve Jobs echoed the same sentiments at his famous Stanford commencement address-
“Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.
Almost everything--all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure--these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.
Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”
If you haven't, you should watch the full speech. It's good.
It's easy to default to the standard way of being.
Go to work. Pay bills. Write about plans for the future and work on them here and there. But more often than not, our time is used to consume too much cognitive detritus on our phones and laptops, avoid boredom, compulsively buy and one up our neighbors and co-workers with useless stuff.
We lose sight of what matters because we hold ourselves accountable in the same way yoga pants keep waistlines accountable.
For myself and the waistlines, that's a massive problem.
Complacency and comfort creep quietly. They are insidious and seductive, quiet rationalizations and justifications in the back of your mind. They lull you into going through the motions and seeking short term entertainment, back to short term fun paid for with long term agony, plus interest.
But it's hard to be complacent when you know you're going to die, and that's the whole point of this.
Following my grandmother's death, a single question nagged at me. "What would you do in her situation?"
You have no control over when or how you go. There's no guarantee you even have health or sanity until the end, and we all know how this story ends- no one gets out alive.
When I take stock of my fears, dying early—dying before "I have it all figured out" is near the very top, right up there with death or illness touching my parents or siblings.
And when I really think about it, dying early scares me because how I've been living isn't really the living I could be doing - I never gave myself permission to figure out who I actually was.
I was too busy trying to be normal, blend in, conform. I never followed my curiosity or cultivated my unique weirdness. Every time that voice in the back of my head piped up with "you're too young/old/fat/brown/ etc. to do this," I listened to the voice. "Perhaps you're right, maybe another time."
This is a recipe for disaster. Years of your life go by. Your confidence erodes every time you vote against yourself.
This makes it incredibly difficult to do anything remotely interesting with your life, nor does it prepare you for the hard times! If you don't believe me, I challenge you to think of just one person who accomplished something incredible while staying soft and complacent in his comfort zone.
I can't think of one.
Xenophon wrote about this thousands of years ago-
"I have noticed this point too, my friends, that in soldiering the people whose one aim is to keep alive usually find a wretched and dishonorable death, while the people who, realizing that death is the common lot of all men, make it their endeavour to die with honour, somehow seem more often to reach old age and to have a happier life when they are alive. These are facts which you too should realize (our situation demands it) and should show that you yourselves are brave men and should call on the rest to do likewise."
One day hardship will come. An accident or death or illness. It always does. Maybe my mom or dad or a sibling or me. But can grasp at life, or you can prepare. I want to be ready enough, financially, emotionally, with no regrets.
Ok. Easy enough to say. But how, exactly?
Well, life is for living. I don't believe anyone will figure it out from the sidelines. This led me to commit the next two years to figuring it out through action and reflection.
I won't figure out who I am by doing what I've been doing, so my hunch is to follow one simple directive: seek discomfort.
Not just physical discomfort, but emotional and mental discomfort. I think that's where people discover what they're capable of and who they are.
"Where your fear is, there is your task" - Carl Jung
and to quote Jobs' commencement address one more time-
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
The plan is as follows:
Set a death date 2 years from now.
I chose November 2nd, 2021.
In doing this, I immediately felt discomfort. Panic. Fear. I thought about the things I still wanted to be, do, accomplish. Regrets. There's a lot of stuff bubbling up from the depths.
Next step is to make a list from the above & filter for the stuff that really matters.
Read part two: What really matters?
This is an ongoing series. Updates and/or new videos come weekly via email, and it's the only way to contact me. Invite this party into your inbox by joining below.
What follows are my 5 immutable rules for a terrible, no good, deeply unfulfilling 2020. Follow these rules and I guarantee you misery. Here's to your misfortune.
The goal is not long term success, but short term comfort through avoidance. To this end, make sure your phone & computer are set up to always grab your attention. Read online news regularly. Have push notifications activated so you can import cherry-picked disasters from far away places directly into your head.
Concern yourself with the affairs of people who don't know you exist, especially those the media puts in front of you. Definitely hang on every word the talking heads and politicians say during the election cycle. That will keep you especially distracted, agitated, and depressed. Perfect for getting nothing done.
Have your shows and social media going while getting work done. Ignore the data that says the vast majority of people can't multitask- you're definitely an exception 😉
Carry a screen with you at all times. The bed, bathroom, work, dates...and bury your head into the screen at the slightest hint of boredom or awkwardness. This creates a habit of avoiding any potential discomfort and is incredibly effective for killing any chance of personal & professional growth.
This mindless, reactive consumption guarantees you won't ever contemplate where you're headed in life, and will keep you from ever creating anything meaningful. You can't create if your constantly consuming, after all. Perfect for stagnating!
The first part of this is to make sure you prioritize everyone else's plans for your time. Having time for your self is overrated. Use your best hours for other people's projects and obligations. Tackle other people's emergencies and "urgent" tasks over the things that move you towards your true goals. Say yes to everything you're offered. Don't forget to binge on shows and social- those take priority. Your own projects and desires can wait. After all, you've got decades of time to burn. Probably.
Ok, part 2- Make sure you prioritize everyone else's opinions and thoughts over your own. Your mental real-estate should be sold to the lowest bidder. Parrot and re-quote everything you see and read. Wear the brands and follow the trends. But under no circumstances are you to entertain your own opinions and ideas. Definitely second guess yourself for having ideas that don't fit the narrative. Don't come to your own conclusions. Let them decide for you.
In the rare chance you do find some regular free time, have many creative projects. Write, paint, run, lift weights, take photographs, start a business. But don't commit or follow through on any of them. Stick around long enough to spend weeks researching gear & spend a small fortune on it, but make it easy to quit as soon as things get a little difficult, inconvenient, confusing, or boring. Remember to stay distracted (rule 1) so it's easy to watch a show or hop on your phone instead of working on a project. Repeat on a new hobby.
You'll know you're doing this correctly if you accumulate a ton of gear over the years, but marginal skillsets to go with your stuff. That's exactly what you want.
It's nice to think about the finish line that you'll reach "someday." It's comfortable to dream about. It feels great without having to lift a finger! And it's easy to defer- you can always say you'll start later because there's no timeline.
Because it feels so good with no effort, I recommend you stay in this dreaming phase. Here are some examples of how to do this. Always say-
"I'm starting a business" instead of working on it to the point of running the business.
"I'm thinking about writing a new book" instead of writing every day.
"I'm going to run a 5k" instead of signing up for a 5k and publicly posting it on social. That would be difficult to back out of and potentially involves running- let's avoid that.
Another good tactic for indefinitely deferring action is to "research" by bingeing information endlessly. Read all the books, watch all the YouTube videos, take all the courses, read the blogs. Take a ton of notes.
Do everything except work on the task at hand. Remember, you only move closer to your goals if you work towards them daily. We don't want that.
All we care about is feeling safe & comfortable now in the short term, while feeling good about our intentions. This is not about committing to anything or holding yourself accountable. Which brings us to...
Poor, poor you. Life has dealt you a bad hand and other people have it way easier than you. Of course they can start businesses and run marathons. They don't know what it's like to be you. It's not your fault. You are 100% the victim here, and you are definitely more oppressed than them, your friends on Twitter said so!
So shift all blame to others and shun all responsibility. Do not hold yourself accountable and avoid scrutiny by drawing attention to those who have it better than you. It's their fault you feel this way. It's their fault you're in this situation.
This line of thinking will help you smugly justify your situation, keep you soft and complacent, without ever needing to lift a finger.
That's it. Follow those 5 rules and you're guaranteed a miserable 2020. To recap:
Ok. Let's talk.
The first version of this was going to be the 5 laws for nailing resolutions. It was positive, tactical and told you what you should do based on all the latest research.
As I read the finished draft, I came away thinking it was formulaic garbage. It would have been lost in the noise with every other "win the new year" article. It's easy to publish that shit-it's safe, requires no thought, and meets expectations.
In an attempt to avoid contributing to the noise, I flipped the email on its head and drew attention to what lurks in the self-help shadows of those optimistic articles. Instead of focus, I championed distraction. Instead of accountability and taking ownership, shift blame and shirk responsibility.
I felt uncomfortable writing this because I've acted on all of these negative impulses more often than I'd like to admit- the 5 rules come from personal experience. The 5 rules are an acknowledgement of that filthy, greasy, petty, egotistical, lazy, animal side I try to keep stuffed down in the recesses of my psyche. It's ok to feel those impulses-there's nothing wrong with having them (but that's a different conversation).
If you felt anger or unease reading any part of the 5 rules, you recognized that animal in yourself as well.
Good. Follow that discomfort.
Understand: When it comes to personal goals, you don't get credit for intentions- only your actions. That gap between intention and action is where your feelings and emotions wait to ambush you. The 5 rules are there to prevent you from taking the right action.
"It's cold outside."
"I'll do it later."
"I'll just watch one episode."
"It's ok to skip a day."
"I want to be better."
That crapshoot of emotions and feelings stands between your best intentions and the action you take. There are occasions when it's easy to do the right thing. But more often than not, you fall victim to one of the 5 rules under the influence of how you felt in the moment.
Your character, self-esteem, and integrity are forged in the moments where you do what needs doing especially when you don't feel like it.
Your resolutions & goals will vary. But the mental game never changes.
For the coming year & beyond, I wish you the courage and discipline to take vigorous action on what you know needs doing- especially when it's difficult to do so.
Featured image: I took this long exposure photo of the summer 2018 Holy Fire just a few miles from my home in Riverside, CA. Seemed fitting for today's topic.
Blogging isn't something I enjoy, and it's not a good use of my time.
I like sharing what I know. I like the art of story telling.
I like connecting with intelligent, like minded people online over shared interests and challenges.
But becoming world class at a skill takes time, and writing blog posts just isn't one of those skills I want to take on.
The main skill for this site is going to be doing stuff out in the real world, and then writing/sharing my thoughts on it in a way that's fun for everyone involved.
This does 2 things. 1. I share the information I'd like to share, and 2. I get to analyze what I did out in the field to iterate better next time.
That's why I've decided every major post will come with a video from now on. It gets me out of my comfort zone, and it makes this whole project interesting enough to pursue.
I've come to see work habits as one of my biggest competitive advantages. I'm constantly refining this system, but overall it's proven incredible effective and I hope it can do the same for you.
When I first started applying this stuff, I felt pretty eccentric. But over the following months it became clear to me that the majority of people have no idea how to work, study, or sit down and do anything even remotely cognitively demanding for a prolonged period of time.
Take a look around. Notice the lack of thoughtful constraints and structure.
That tells me you want employees to socialize more. But we know that real work happens in periods of deep distraction free focus (more on that later).
If you were smart, you'd have both, and schedule both. Go into your pod or cubicle to get in the zone for 2-3 hours. Hang out in the open office while doing non-critical work like answering emails. Or even better, have 2 hours, even 1 scheduled day of preset collaboration time where people hang out and exchange ideas. Constraints= clarity of purpose.
That tells me you plan for your employees to be spending free time at work. Here's a better idea. Pay your employees well and let them leave once they get a certain amount of work done. Work hours should be like internet bandwidth. Limit it to what's needed to get the job done for the day, and then let them go live their lives. Don't call them outside of work hours.
I've worked like that before. It's glorious. You have to silence your phone and put it in a box while working, but can access it during breaks and lunch. My day started at 8 AM and I was finished by 2pm most days. There'd be an occasional day or 2 where we'd go from 8 AM to 6 or even 8 PM because of a deadline. I didn't mind because I'd always be back to my 2pm schedule right after.
This schedule subcommunicated to me that my company understood I work to make money so I can go live my life. I respected them for that, and I worked my ass off while I was there. Being employed in this manner felt like an even trade between two mutually respecting partners.
Other places I've worked just want me to log hours. This tells me they don't think deeply on the processes that run their business and are afraid of making changes. In these institutions I feel less like a valuable employee and more like an indentured servant. It's no surprise these companies did mediocre work.
As you grow up, garbage study habits become garbage work habits. It's considered normal to study with music, netflix, and your phone next to you. These habits don't magically go away once you get a job. Working with your phone on your desk is like eating chicken breast and broccoli on a strict diet with a plate of fresh brownies in front of you. You've set yourself up for disaster. But it's the norm.
All of these ideas aren't directly relevant to every industry and type of work, but for knowledge workers, students, and people working online it's the rule, not the exception. We don't put effort into constraints and structuring work. This makes it incredibly easy to get ahead.
The dynamic is doubly critical when you work for yourself.
Work is a thing you do to produce your desired outcomes. And then you get the hell out.
As a freelancer/business owner, my desired outcomes are to make as much money as I can by working on projects that are interesting and meaningful to me. The first constraint I set up is the number of hours I work. I'm vigilant about shutting it down every day.
You have to make room for life.
When you don't know how to shut down, you can end up isolating yourself. I've seen it happen to others. I've slid into the habit more than once and it's never pretty.
The worst case is you end up alone. No social life, no meaningful relationships. You forget how to socialize.
Your work suffers because you don't know how to step away. It's a shit way to live!
If you're planning on working for yourself for the long haul, treat yourself as if you were your best employee. Have that respect. Set maximum hours. Set a definite start time and end time.
Say you want try this out. You decide the hours between 8 AM and 3PM are going to be when you get all of your super focus work done. What do you actually do in that time?
I prefer breaking up my time into a few blocks. I like working in 2 hour blocks in the morning, and 1 hour blocks in the afternoon.
I fill that time with tasks in order of long term importance, not urgency.
My schedule might look like:
You'll notice there is zero client work in the schedule above. Because I'm in the process of shifting from freelance worker to online business owner, I dedicate as many days as I can solely to my site, and batch all client work for 1 or 2 days of the week.
That lets me focus most of my time on building a business, which is going to give me the long term results I want. But even on client work days, the first 2 hours is still spent on my highest priority work for my site. That never changes. Prioritize what's important to you over what's urgent. The difficult work that moves you towards your ideal future outcomes has to come first.
I largely created this work system from observing the podcast host and author Srinivas Rao. Over the last 2 years, I've worked with him on developing his online brand into an online business. In the process, I've had multiple opportunities to observe his work habits, often for days at a time.
In the last 2 years I've seen him produce 2 podcasts a week, an article a week, write and publish 2 books, read 50 + books a year, experiment with every productivity tool on the planet, book speaking gigs, and work with me on creating and delivering 5-8 different products. He does all this despite having ADHD.
The craziest realization for me was understanding that if he wanted to, Srini could do nothing but surf and play video games after 2 pm most days and he'd still be just as productive.
That's the beauty of scheduling a start and end time to your work hours. You know the rest of your time is completely guilt free to spend as you wish, because you've already accomplished your most important tasks for the day.
Before moving on, let me say that I currently spend 2 days a week working an additional 3-4 hours, sometimes more if I'm feeling sharp. If I start getting tired of it I'll ease up, but for now it's manageable long term and doesn't interfere with my social or personal life.
If you synthesize your ideas, emotions, thoughts, and feelings into something tangible to share with others for a living, your job is to create.
Coding, businesses, art, writing etc...it's all creative work.
But distracted, procrastinating creatives don't create.
If you're consuming content, you're not creating.
Your attention should be focused on creating. There are 4 methods I use for this. The first is prioritizing important tasks over urgent tasks, which we tackled above.
2. Have total clarity
For those work blocks, be very clear about what you're trying to accomplish. What I work on today is dictated by what I scheduled yesterday. Scheduling tomorrow is the last thing I'll do today. I'll go deeper into identifying your most important tasks in another article, but the general idea is to "design your days to automatically make progress on your long term goals."
3 months from now, I want my site to have a certain number of articles and subscribers. My mission critical tasks are the small, daily steps I take to climbing that mountain.
And that daily clarity allows me to focus on execution. There's no thinking about what to do next, no ambiguity. Just creation.
The next method of protecting your attention is-
3. Eliminate what doesn't matter.
"You can do anything you want, but you can't do everything you want."
Focus, attention, productivity, time management...it really comes down to choosing a few things you want to do, and then having the courage to ignore the rest of everything.
There's serious FOMO. We're addicted to our phones. We think being perpetually plugged in is normal and acceptable.
I think that's bullshit.
Being perpetually plugged in is toxic and will jack you up, so I'm going to help you examine your relationship with technology.
Here are my ground rules.
The problem with phones and social media is it's all designed for you to consume and react. If you hear about a tragedy 7000 miles away, you can do ZERO about it except feel bad. That's going to impact the quality of your work. If you're busy reacting in the moment, you're losing sight of your long term plans. It's self sabotage.
Emails and calls are demands other people are putting on your time. Just because you've hung up the phone and gone back to your task doesn't mean you're mind isn't still lingering on the call.
You are the creator. While you work, no one should be able to casually intrude upon your conscience and cause you to react. Schedule it later. Emails and calls can wait.
And the last strategy-
4. Tailor your physical work environment to getting stuff done.
I used to love working at the coffee shop down the street from my place. Getting out of the house made me feel productive, and I knew that was something I wanted to continue to do. The problem was I made friends with one of the baristas. She would introduce me to all of her friends, and then I'd see them all regularly in there.
This was very good for my social life but when you're single, It's terrible for getting stuff done.
Public library. 3 days a week, my local library opens at 10 and closes at 7. The remaining 3 days, they're open from 10 to 4. I play a mental game with my self to set a challenge to finish my work 2 hours before they close.
Your surroundings really matter, but optimizing your work environment goes deeper than location.
If it's too cold or hot, you'll be distracted. If the chair is too hard like those steel and cinder abominations at starbucks, or the table too high, you'll be distracted. If your pants are too tight or your shoes uncomfortable and your nails too long to type comfortably, you'll be distracted. If people are talking, you'll hear it.
I called these "micro-tolerations" - the little things that get in our way every day but we just gloss over them. Changing one may not be significant. But if you have 5, 7, 10 things you tolerate, you're at a distinct disadvantage.
My biggest lesson with this was finally investing in a wireless mouse and getting off the touch pad on my laptop. My beautiful Logitech MX Anywhere 2 made working online sooo much more enjoyable. I was clueless as to how annoying the touch pad was because I didn't know any better.
And because I'm a maniac, I bought some $20 slim profile shooting ear muffs on amazon. When I'm at the library, I'll put a 2 hour ambient track on, put my in-ear buds in, and put the shooting muffs over them. BAM, noise canceling headphones for cheap.
And the last thing I do is use an app called Forest to block all distracting websites for up to 2 hours.
At that point, I am the most unreachable man on a computer. No one can distract me through the laptop. My phone is silent and out of site. I'm comfortable. I can't hear any nonsense. I'm plugged in for 2 hours and start hacking away at my pre-scheduled list of tasks.
Life is good.
Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.”- Helen Keller
There is one strategic weakness to this new way of working. By ritualizing and controlling every factor in your work habits, there is a chance you make yourself vulnerable to chaos.
Think of it this way. Let's say you have a habit of going to the gym or for a run, and you always wear your headphones. What happens the day you forget your headphones or you leave your phone at home? Are you going to be able keep up that level of intensity without your music? Or is it going to ruin the whole session for you?
We know there are no constants in life. Things are ever changing, and the security of our routines is an illusion. Eventually, something does go wrong and Murphy's Law will come in like a wrecking ball. It is a bit dramatic to think of a workday in the context of life going wrong, but you get my point.
If you have family over, or are traveling, or have to work from an over air conditioned, uncomfortably furnished Starbucks for a week, are you still going to be able to get what you need to done?
Intelligently designing your workdays means optimizing how much you get accomplished every day for as long as you have to work. The key to this is being adaptable. Bear Grylls every situation-
Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.
Use your environments to your advantage, but don't become dependent on optimized environments. Your favorite tools shouldn't ever become a crutch. Make sure you aren't taken out of commission when your meticulously designed workday gets a wrench thrown in it.
An interrupted workday is a pretty mild form of Murphy. Things can always go wrong in far worse manner. But in general when things don't go to plan, I find this quote from Marcus Aurelius particularly useful to remember-
“It is my bad luck that this has happened to me.' No, you should rather say: 'It is my good luck that, although this has happened to me, I can bear it without pain, neither crushed by the present, nor fearful of the future.'Because such a thing could have happened to any man, but not every man could have borne it without pain. So why see more misfortune in the event than good fortune in your ability to bear it?”
Working towards a dream life means methodically designing your days to get you there. Being poor and distracted isn't going to allow me to live on a ranch near Yellowstone or drive a Jaguar E-Type around the Isle of Mann. It all boils down to what I take action on daily. In order to best do so, I design my work days.
Questions? Suggestions on how to make this better or other topics to cover?
Just shoot me an email. king at courage lab dot org.