For all of 2020, I’m trying something different. Every month I’m setting a theme. As part of that theme, I’m also setting goals and habits to help it along the way. These themes aren’t limited to the month either – each theme is for the year but in addition to everything else added before it.
For January my theme was Focus, for February it was Finish, for March, Routine. I picked these themes based on what I felt was the most important at the time to help stay emotionally grounded, productive and happy.
To my surprise, despite everything else going on in the news, the world cooperated to make these themes successful. Part of this is because these are themes, not goals. Themes help determine where my energy goes, but it doesn’t say what needs to be accomplished at the end of the month.
By itself, it doesn’t mean the month will be successful, but it’s an indication of what I’m spending my mental energy trying to improve.
My Themes So Far This Year
In January (Focus) I got picked for 5 weeks of jury duty (which went into February). That assured I was focused for 8 hours every single day. Combined with other personal guidelines for social media and other distractions and this theme was an effective shock to my system that helped eliminate distractions I’d been trying to avoid (yes, I’m talking about Twitter, Reddit and a few others that were sucking up my time).
In February (Finish) I had the flexibility to clean out my todo list. I ruthlessly uncluttered our apartment, giving away or selling things. I organized my digital life until I could find anything. A photo from a trip back in 2004? Yeah, it’s 3 clicks away. I went through my Minafi task list and completed a handful of programming projects that were already started. Some of them will be part of the Minafi Investor Bootcamp, others will be their own posts. The effect of this was that I felt lighter, with open loops closed. This wasn’t about starting anything new either – it was just about completing things I’d started.
In March (Routine), COVID-19 hit forcing us to stay home. Family canceled their trips out here to SLC and we canceled our 3-week trip to South Korea and Taiwan. There’s never been a better time to focus on creating a routine! I focused on a morning routine, a workout routine, a meal prep routine, a weekly task planning routine, and a few “don’t do this until that” style habits. By the end of the month, I had time blocked my week with tasks that I enjoy and know will be productive (or at least help me feel productive when I’m playing Final Fantasy VII for 16 hours a day later on).
My April Theme: Create
Let’s face it, most of us are going to be stuck at home for all of April. With COVID-19, social distancing, shelter-in-place, and 6-ft of personal space, I have even more time on my hands than usual.
Without some sort of goal or theme, I’d probably just stay glued to the news and freak myself out even more. That’s part of why I’m creating monthly themes – to push myself out of my comfort zone and do things that I know are good for me (even if I don’t always want to).
When stuck at home, it’s easy to get trapped in a consumption spiral. We consume news, check social media, TV shows, movies, games, music, audiobooks, podcasts, food and more. In times of stress, I tend to consume even more.
I’ve been doing more of these lately since being cooped up. I’m generally OK with this being an unusual time. I’m OK with tweaking my usual consumption habits to hear what’s going on in the news.
In actuality that’s mandatory. If we weren’t listening to the news we wouldn’t know of national, state and local rules regarding isolation.
It’s important to check in on yourself to make sure you’re not overwhelmed. This is an exceedingly stressful time right now. Don’t beat yourself up if you’re not able to accomplish everything you want to. No one is, and I’m most certainly not. I planned to complete all of the content for the investing course I’m working on by April, but that’s not happening.
I’m not planning to turn my productivity up to 11 in a month. I’m thinking more about increasing the volume from a 3 to a 4. Nothing insane, but enough to have an impact on my mental health.
For April I’m aiming to adjust that habit and shift to a mindset of creation rather than consumption. That’s it. There’s no commitment to what I’ll create. No goal to complete what I start. This is just a mindset shift to create.
A former coworker of mine wrote an excellent article that still resonates with me that ties in with this: The Power of Creation Will Change Your Life. A quote from that article brings life down to two things:
Throughout our entire lives, we are doing one of only two things. Either we are consuming, or we are creating.Ken Frei
In everything we do we’re either consuming or creating. The last month for me skewed heavily towards the consumption direction. I’ve felt out of balance because of it and want to shift the scale back to even.
To be honest, just writing that sounds exhausting. I’m very cozy in bed my dog right now, watching it snow outside. I have a feeling that to create I’ll have to get out of this warmth (eventually; I’m good now). I do know I feel better when I’m creating something and now just getting sucked into a constant news cycle.
There is a difference between good consumption and bad consumption too. Well, unless you’re playing Oregon Trail, then everything is bad consumption. Reading books, checking in on the world every once in a while, watching courses, learning something new and even watching videos that inspire me to take action is good consumption. I’m not planning on shifting these, other than being more mindful of good shifts to bad.
What Am I Hoping to Get Out of This?
By the end of the month, I want to shift my mindset to where I’m constantly looking for new things to create, I’m excited about their possibilities and I’m investing time to turn them into reality.
What I want to create varies. Lately, I’ve been focused so much on one thing (this blog) that it’s left me feeling underdeveloped in other areas. So here’s what I’m thinking it would be fun to spend time creating during this month:
Cooking new recipes. It’s the perfect time for this! So long as we can get groceries delivered, spending a little extra time learning how to make a new dish has an amazing return on time. We’ve focused a bunch on Southeast Asian, Korean and Japanese dishes – partially because we really love them, and also since they’re usually healthier than popular western cuisine.
Program something. I have an entire kanban board in Notion with programming ideas. Since I’ve been focused on finishing things lately, the board is shockingly empty. This is a chance to fill it up with some new ideas that I’m excited to work on. I’m thinking about adding a Q&A section to Minafi which would be a super-fun project.
Take a course. Learning something new creates a new way of seeing the world. When the right course comes along when I’m mentally prepared for it, it can be world-changing. Part of finishing things in February was getting me to the spot where I was ready to start something new. There are a few courses I’ve been eying – productivity with Notion, data visualization (maybe a Tableau course? or D3.js?), a photography one on Masterclass or something on Vue.js. There’s something attractive about taking a video course right now for that slight bit of additional human contact. (Does anyone have any amazing course recommendations?)
Spend time researching. Project management and research time is soooo underrated. Whether you call it planning, research or exploration, taking the time to develop how you’ll get from point A to B is needed. Take the “cooking new recipes” item above. If I just have that on my list but don’t do anything else except “cook”, then I’ll be limited by what I can make with the ingredients we have on hand. I need to find recipes that look mouth-watering, narrow it down to what looks best, buy missing ingredients and lastly cook. The same can be said for deciding what course to take, what trail to run or what workout programs to try.
Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.Abraham Lincoln
Research time can be so much fun too! It’s usually very low-stakes and low-energy. Rather than checking Reddit at night, spending a few minutes to decide on a course to take or sort through AllTrails and make a plan for our next hike is worlds more productive. As a bonus, it also makes me more excited about completing it too.
Write more. OK, you probably saw this coming. I did a word count on the Minafi Investor Bootcamp and it’s already up to about 70,000 words – that’s a book! And I’m only half-way done! Luckily the most technical parts of the content are complete, so now the focus is on the more soft-skills of investing (ex: ditching your advisor, retiring in style).
There are areas that I’m not focusing on creating. Mrs. Minafi got me a new camera lens for Christmas that I’m aching to try out (a Fujinon XF16mm F2.8 for those in the know). Once we can travel to some National Parks, that’ll be my main lens.
As much as I appreciate art, I like focusing on the basics (color theory, layout, typography) rather than illustrations and drawings. The Minafi logo is about the extent of my skills.
How Will I Do This?
This doesn’t mean that I’ll be consuming nothing. I plan to continue reading news in the morning, checking my favorite feeds, reading books and listening to audiobooks. The new Final Fantasy VII Remake also comes out this month, and Mrs. Minafi is already prepared for me to be MIA while I revisit the nostalgia from my teenage years.
During my career, I’d love to hear about new projects weeks or months before they were started. This helped me start brainstorming the problem in my head long before ever writing a line of code. I’m hoping to do the same this month – lining up a few things I want to focus on creating and jumping between them.
I don’t need to finish all of them either. This is more about shifting my mindset to creation over consumption. When I’m doing weekly task planning I’ll have that “creation” theme in my mind and I’ll help drive what I work on during the week.
Weekly Task Planning. During my weekly task planning, I’ll aim to highlight and even schedule things I intend to focus on creating. If I know what
Evening research. At the end of the day is when I tend to be the least productive. This is the absolute perfect time to do some research and line up the next things to work on. It has the added benefit of being a problem for “future-adam”. This part is essential to make progress too.
Block creation time on my calendar. One of the takeaways from March (Routine), was how helpful it’s been to time-block my calendar for future tasks. If I know what I need to do and have time blocked out for it, that raises the chance of getting there.
And lastly, don’t beat myself up about consumption. I’m going to miss tasks, I’ll miss times I blocked out and at times I won’t feel like creating. That’s OK! This monthly theme doesn’t mean I need to shift to being perfect.
One unexpected side effect of setting these monthly themes has been that I’ve been much more accepting of my progress in that area – whatever it ended up being. I’ve struggled to feel like I’ve been creating much lately, so I’m hoping this theme will help me celebrate those successes that I might not be seeing quite as much.
Do you have any goals or themes for April? How are you staying sane during social distancing? Are you struggling with over-consumption lately? Or have you found something that’s helped? Let me know in the comments!