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, and for April Create. I picked these themes based on what I felt was the most important at the time to help stay emotionally grounded, productive, and happy.
Side note: Check out the bottom of any of these “theme posts” to hear about how it went.
This has been an unusual year. I left my job in December 2018, and so far this year I have not been working in the traditional sense. In January I was called for 5-weeks of jury duty, I volunteered at Sundance for a week, flew to Orlando, FL for a wedding then came back only to be quarantined in our apartment since early March.
That brings us to 6-weeks cooped up at home (so far). My wife and I are sheltering in place here in Salt Lake City with Lily (our pup). Lately our life has looked mostly like this:
Groceries: We cook about 18 out of 22 meals a week. We have a Big Lots across the street for dry goods, and a pair of grocery stores within 2 blocks we go to for most things. The largest Costco in the world is a mile away – but even that has a line to get. We’ve tried to limit our grocery shopping to one day a week, and use Instacart for delivery instead of going to Costco.
Takeout / Delivery: So far we’ve only been eating out once a week from our favorite local restaurants. Thai, sushi, pizza, chicken sandwiches have been our goto. If you’re ever in SLC and want a great spicy chicken sandwich, go to Pretty Bird. The mild is tasty, but if you like spicy try it at medium heat.
Outdoors: We’re fortunate to live in an area that’s not too densely populated. There is a shelter in place requirement, but we’re still able to use public parks, hiking trails, and the mountains to their fullest. These tend to get PACKED on weekends though, so we try to only go on weekdays. We walk Lily a few times a day and I’ve been running MWF, which has felt like just as much outdoor time as before. I’ve been anxiously waiting for the snow to melt to hike some higher trails without needing spikes.
We were able to get out to the Utah Capitol building to see the cherry blossoms – one of our absolute favorite things to check out each year.
Productivity: Feeling “productive” when you don’t have the requirement to make money can be a weird thing. I’ve felt productive doing a lot of things over the past month:
- Playing through Final Fantasy VII Remake
- Learning strategies for the board game Scythe (on Steam)
- Watching an online course on Tableau data visualizations
- Cleaning my office
- Improving the Google Page Speed Index for this site (82 on mobile, ~99 on desktop!)
- Making donuts and cookies
Those last two basically offset each other, but they’re still fun! Last month’s theme of create had me feeling more productive than I had in a while – which was awesome.
There was a downside to it though. There were areas where I didn’t want to do the work. For some of the long-term projects in progress, I skipped out on the hard parts and spent time on other things instead. That’s not great long-term.
That’s what led me to this month’s theme.
My Theme for May: Work
It’s not what you think. I’m not going back to a job and I don’t need to work for money (not now at least – ask me again in 15 years). Despite the market being down a bit, this isn’t the end of FIRE.
My focus this month is on doing things I don’t want to do, but need to do in order to achieve goals down the line.
Striking a balance with this is tough – especially when I can just not do it. Part of my mind thinks “well, I don’t need to do that, so I won’t”. There are other things I can do that will feel productive, so I’ll do those instead.
This is a bad sign. For one it means that things aren’t getting finished. For another, it means that I’m making a lot of agreements with myself that aren’t being fulfilled. That’s something I take seriously and want to improve on.
One thing that scares me the most is complacency. It’s getting into a groove where I’m not challenging myself or working towards long-term goals in a sustainable way. Part of that is doing things that aren’t fun in the moment but will pay off eventually.
There are different forms of productivity. With some, you feel great at the end of the day for a job well done. You accomplished what you set out to do – or at least made some progress on it. This is the sense of productivity that most of us feel at our jobs. It’s the feeling that lets me relax with a beer at the end of the day and celebrate a job well done.
Another form of productivity is progress towards a long-term personal goal. This might not always look like success in the same way that putting in a day of work can be. It could mean research, education, trial and error, prototyping, sketching, or brainstorming.
After a particularly bad run a few weeks ago where I was out of breath almost from the start, I started trying to figure out why that happened. Even this little self-reflection is productive time working towards my long-term goal of running a marathon.
I’ve found that I derive more joy out of working towards a long-term goal overall, but need those short-term wins (ie, making donuts) to keep me motivated feel productive. As long as I’m creating something, there’s something to celebrate. For the smaller creations that can mean chilling out, for the larger ones it means a party.
What Am I Hoping to Get Out of This?
Momentum. I’m much more likely to continue making progress if in something if I’ve already broken through some of the hard parts. This is the same reason why “follow your passion” is bad advice – you need that struggle to get to the points that are fun! I know that for some of my side projects it’ll be the same.
As for which side projects? The two I’m focusing on this month will be Minafi and personal fitness.
In the last month, I’ve had a ton of fun working on both. Not all of that work was strategic though. I put time into the fun parts of each and put off parts that felt like work.
Finish the text content for the Minafi Investor Bootcamp. Can you believe there’s already content for 6 courses written and released? That leaves just 3.5 to go! I’m super grateful for all of the early adopters who have already joined too – they give me more motivation than anything that I’m on the right track with this idea.
The Bootcamp has a very specific goal: go over what most people need to know to invest. It’s not about becoming an expert in investing and stock picking. It’s about being able to pick the right low-fee, diversified funds for your goals given whatever options you have (your 401(k), etc).
Finish a draft of my interactive guide to investing. This is the sister article to the Interactive Guide to FIRE which aims to be my goto “how to invest” article here on Minafi. I laid out the plans for it last year, and have been creating various interactive visualizations for it. Some are also included in Minafi posts and others in the Bootcamp posts. What’s great is that they’ve all been created with this article in mind! Most every article out there about “how to invest” gives every possible answer (use roboadvisors, or a financial advisor, or DIY, or invest in stocks, or crypto, etc). This aims to be an opinionated approach to low fee, diversified, DIY investing.
Keep increasing my physical stamina. I’ll admit it: I’ve skipped a lot of running and exercise days lately. When I’m cosy in bed I just don’t want to leave! I’m aiming to mix that up and continue preparing for my marathon in July and a few longer backpacking trips later this year once the snow has melted.
How Will I Do This?
You can’t be productive in all areas of life. As much as I’d like to do everything, it’s a lot better to concentrate on one thing at a time. Because of that, I don’t plan to “do the work” on all things in life – only two.
I began trying what I’ll do in May already. It’s back to a simple formula:
- Set a time and place to do something.
- Make sure that time matches my daily rhythms.
- Make the environment as comfortable as possible.
- Do it.
- Reward myself for doing it.
This is habit development 101.
For writing, that means doing it every day at 10 am. I’ve figured out that’s the best time for me to personally write. I’ve set up my office in just the way I like it, creating an irresistible staircase that gets me up and moving. I’m aiming to write for an hour, but that usually goes over. Some articles I can write with some TV shows on in the background, but I shouldn’t make that a habit.
I’ve found my ideal time for exercise is right before lunch. That way I can have a meal to follow it up. I’m much more likely to eat healthy after a workout, which helps too. My go-to time for working out has been 11:30 am lately but now with more emphasis on hitting it every day – whether I want to or not.
It’s been surprising to me how productive I feel an entire day is by just writing for an hour and working out for an hour before lunch. Throughout the afternoon I don’t get as down on myself – which then opens up other creative ideas to work on!
Trying to be productive at long-term through the difficult stages is a challenge whether you have an abundance of time or you’re struggling to find 5 minutes between teaching kids and working a 3rd job.
Having the option to set these whenever I’m most productive is an insanely amazing advantage of financial independence. Not only am I able to pick the best time to do it, but I’m able to try out different things until I find one that works! Finding what works is an ongoing process. Keep trying and making changes on an honest look at how you work best!