I have a confession to make: I absolutely love activities that get me thinking about myself, my environment, my goals, dreams or relationships in new ways.
I imagine that’s part of the reason why I loved the switch from Software Developer to Product Manager during my career (before I left my job) – it gave me more time to think about the future and to plan it. Even according to Strengthfinders, my #2 strength is Futuristic (#1 is Strategy, so yeah – future planning is kind of something I enjoy).
Over the years I’ve created or tried a bunch of different activities that help organize the thoughts about a topic, create a goal for the future and map out a course to get there.
As I’m writing this the world is currently on lockdown. Non-essential stores are closed, leaving only grocery stores, food stores, health care facilities and a few other places open.
For the first time, perhaps in my entire lifetime, there’s something happening that will impact every person on planet Earth. This ranges from extreme to mere inconveniences.
If you’re safe and are looking for something to get your mind off the news, then these activities are for you.
If you find an activity that you think will help you: give it a shot! If you find it useful then let me know.
1. Perform A Weekly Task Planning Session
There’s nothing that helps me feel more productive than checking off a few tasks for the day. Afterward, I can spend all the time in the world playing a game, reading Reddit or just relaxing knowing that I got at least something done.
Scheduling things to do is itself a task! One of the best activities that’s worked for me is to set aside an hour at the same time each week. During that hour I do one thing:
Update my todo list with 3 things to do for each day for the next week.
That’s it. I’ve decided to also block off Wednesdays and Saturdays as my “vacation” days during the week, so I don’t schedule anything on those days.
My friend and former colleague Drew takes this process a step farther and includes periodic reviews and also blocks out time on his calendar. I do like the time-blocking idea, as it helps mentally prepare me for doing the work.
2. Write Down 101 Things You’d Like to Know, Have, Do, or Be
This is probably my all-time favorite activity. Whether you call it a bucket list, a life list or a goals list, the idea is the same: write down 101 things you want to know, have, do or be. These are all things you haven’t done, and that you couldn’t (or wouldn’t) do today to just check them off.
I got the idea from a Ted Talk by Renee West. West was the first every woman COO of a major hotel on the Vegas Strip. Her story and her message is inspiring and worth a watch.
The “goals” range from skills you want to acquire (instruments, languages), things you’d like to own (house, car, place away in the woods), things you’d like to do (travel, skydive, swim with sharks) or personality traits you’d like you to call yourself (a good friend, a loving husband, an inspiring mother).
The hardest part is coming up with all 101 things. At about 30 it started to get difficult for me. If you find yourself just listing out countries you want to visit, try to batch them in a group (“take a tour of Southeast Asia”, “backpack around Europe for 3 months”).
To take it a step farther, I try to pick a few of these you want to focus on now. For me that’s these:
Goals to Try for This Year
- Go on a week-long camping trip. (Planning for the Uinta Highline Trail).
- Run a mile in under 6 minutes (fastest mile: 6:49).
- Run a marathon (ran a half-marathon in 2:08 in 2019. Signed up for a marathon in July).
- Read every science fiction and fantasy book on the NPR top 100 sci-fi list (57 down, 43 to go!).
- Be able to walk on my hands (so much harder than it looks).
This list is based on what’s actually possible this year. Travel and experiences with other people are still on hold, but there’s still a lot I want to do that can be done largely on my own or with a few friends.
Goals to Work Towards This Year
- Learn to speak Japanese fluently (up to 110 Kanji using Wanikani)
- Be able to do every CrossFit workout RX (in a reasonable time)
- Create a business that teaches people how to improve their lives (the Minafi Investor Bootcamp)
- Learn how to create interactive visualizations that help teach others (reading lots of books on this and trying things out here on Minafi).
- Create a website that generates more passive income than I spend with minimal work (with the current markets this may end up being important. We have 3 years of cash + investments we hope recover by then).
My CrossFit gym did close down this past week. Surprisingly it wasn’t because of the lockdown, but because Salt Lake City was hit with a 5.7 earthquake that knocked out their power! I can’t imagine how hard it is to be a small business right now.
Try your own list of 101 things and see what floats to the top.
- 101 Things I Want to Know, Have, Do or Be – My Bucket, Goals and Vision List
- The Power of Thrift’s Life Bucket List
3. Create a Personal Mission
If someone came up to you and asked “What is your personal mission in life?”, what would you say?
Probably “hmm, I don’t know, what’s yours?”.
It’s not a normal question people ask.
It’s not a question about what you do for work, or about your relationships – it’s a question that gets to the core of what you want to do.
In a way, it feels like asking a kid in middle school “what do you want to be when you grow up?”. They haven’t experienced enough life to know.
After much consideration in the activity below, I came up with this as my personal mission:
I help empower people to transform their ideas into reality by enlivening education.My Personal Mission
How I came to this as my mission and how you can create yours is detailed in the following post.
4. Create Your Perfect Week
There’s something about looking at your schedule on a weekly basis that I find helpful. I think it’s because it’s when time “loops”. It’s hard to compare a Saturday and a Monday schedule-wise, but you can compare a Monday and another Monday.
This activity creates a sample routine using a Google Sheet (that you can copy). Creating a routine is helpful – both to feel important and to not get sucked into things you don’t want to be. I feel much more productive when I’m able to stick to parts of a routine.
Try creating your “perfect week”. What would it look like if you could schedule exactly what you wanted to do in a given week?
I’ve tried this activity a few times. Once when working, once when I was about to retire and then again after I actually retired and tried it.
Getting my schedule to a point where I felt productive but not overwhelmed and motivated but not stressed has been the struggle.
At the beginning of March, I decided to try making my focus for the month Routine. I wanted to create specific things that could be called “my routine”. This activity was helpful for ruling some of the ideas in and others out.
- What’s Your Weekly Spending Distribution
- Plan Your Perfect Week in Retirement Today
- A Day of FIRE – Expectation vs Reality
5. Start, Stop, Continue
Start, Stop Continue is one of my favorite activities to do with others professionally.
You choose a subject, say “things you want to do with your days now that you’re quarantined”. Set a timer for 5 minutes and write down as many things as you can that you want to start during that time.
Once you’re down, set a timer for 5 minutes and do the same for things you want to stop doing. Repeat this with 5 minutes of things you want to continue doing.
By the end, you should have a list of a bunch of things. You can prioritize them from most important to least, or circle 1-3 things in each column that are the most important.
If you’re really crazy like me you could give them weights and graph them too.
6. Design Your Lifestyle
The activity involves a handful of questions on the day-to-day level, the big-picture level, the legacy level, relationship level, and self-worth level. There are most questions than just those in this image, but here are a few:
After you’ve gone through and answered these, the next step is to try to pick out some themes. What stands out for you will be completely different mine.
The last step is to use these to create a personal mission. Mine from above ended up using this same format:
I help empower [grow] people to transform [grow] their ideas into reality [creation] by enlivening education [explore].My annotated mission
Try it for yourself! I’m curious to see what other people’s themes are.
7. Design a Morning Ritual
The times in my life when I’ve been happiest have been when I’ve had a morning ritual. Sometimes that meant writing in the morning, sometimes it meant working out and at other times it meant having coffee in bed.
Whether you’re retired or quarantined, having a morning ritual helps to set a structure for your entire day.
When I first stopped working, I found that I was getting up, checking Twitter and Reddit and all of a sudden it was past noon. That was absolutely not how I wanted to spend my days.
Since my January emphasis on focus, my morning routine looks something like this:
- Wake up naturally between 8am and 10am without an alarm (unless you count Lily as an alarm.
- Have coffee in bed. Either with a protein bar or by making breakfast.
- Mrs. Minafi and I alternate walking Lily around the block in the morning. Usually whoever went the sleep first the previous night walks her first.
- I’m learning Japanese using spaced repetition. I’ll review anything terms Wanikani recommends and learn new characters if I have fewer than 50 characters in the “apprentice” category.
- Check the news on my iPad from The New York Times and check on my favorite blogs via Feedly.
- Check my todo list for the day and mentally prepare myself for it.
- Hunker down to read a book until I feel like taking a break (usually either one checked out from the library or on my iPad).
This evolved over time and now it’s become my morning routine. I absolutely love it and miss it when I’m away from home. I start the day feeling productive, learning new things and relaxing – all aligned with one of my personal goals to “start every day relaxed and refreshed”.
8. Create a List of Your Personal Beliefs
What is it that you truly believe in? I don’t think about this as politics at all – this is your personal beliefs that inspire how you act in life. Doing this activity helped me understand what was most important to me.
You can have fun with it too! Pick your side (if you have one) on the true battles we’re facing today: Marvel vs DC (vs Image & others), Star Wars vs Star Trek, Backstreet Boys vs NSYNC, cats vs dogs – whatever you have a strong opinion about.
9. Design An Irresistible Staircase
I first heard the concept of an irresistible staircase in a talk Simon Allardice gave when I was working at Pluralsight. I immediately loved the concept.
The idea is simple: imagine a building where people aren’t taking the stairs. They’re windowless, dark, concrete and hidden away at the edges of the building. In an attempt to offset more people using the elevators, the building adds a beautiful, open-air stairwell in the middle of the lobby. It’s ornate and everyone sees it right when they walk into the building. Foot traffic immediately adjusts, with more people using the new stairs than ever before.
In this case, a staircase was a staircase. You can use this same approach to solve a problem that you’re facing. Is there something you absolutely want to want to do but haven’t yet been able to get the motivation to start? That’s where an irresistible staircase would help.
That could be getting that pair of running shoes, setting up your desk so you can focus on writing, or getting a good (but cheap) chefs knife so you cook at home. Find what you want to do and design something that’s so irresistible that you do it.
Note: this doesn’t mean you need to spend a fortune either. Try to find the “minimum viable irresistible staircase” – something that solves your problems and motivates with the least effort.
10. Make a List of Your “Why’s” For Financial Independence
A financial one! This one is simple: make a list of all the reasons why you would want to be financially independent (or reasons why you are happy to be FI).
I looked back at this list as a reminder while I was working. It helped motivate me to focus my spending and keep the FI goal in mind. Looking at the whys just as important as looking at the hows.
There’s a common saying in the financial independence community:
Create the life you want then save for it.
Doing this activity helped me move some of these items from my “when I retire” list to my “let’s do that right now” list.
11. Use Buffett’s 25/5 Technique to Prioritize Your Personal Goals
If you created a list of 101 goals, the next step is narrowing them down to a few you can focus on now. That’s where Buffett’s 25/5 technique comes in handy.
The process is simple: order your goals and pick the top 5. Work on those and actively avoid everything else. This is how I highlighted the 5 goals I’m working on this year.
12. Create or Figure Out What Your Keystone Habits Are
Keystone habits are a topic that gets thrown around a lot. My definition of a keystone habit goes something like this:
Something you would do even if it’s not on a todo list or your calendar without needing to motivate yourself to do it.
At a basic level, habits include brushing your teeth in the morning, packing a lunch for work or journaling.
Most habits aren’t keystone habits though. These are the habits that kick-off additional work because other habits are inspired by them.
I don’t have very many keystone habits. My morning routine is a keystone habit. Exercising at 11:30 am every day is a keystone habit. Posting new articles on Minafi on Mondays is a keystone habit. Making a large meal on Mondays so I can leftovers for the week is another one.
Finding or creating keystone habits has been one of the ways I’ve tricked myself into feeling productive while staying at home since retirement. They’re a great way to focus on what matters.
13. Find Your FIO Number – Financial Independence With Options
This is a fun financial activity. As we get older, it’s very common that our spending increases. We have more income coming in, allowing our lifestyle to become more expensive.
This could be the change from taking a road trip to international traveling, eating in to occasionally eating out, or buying a house rather than living in a cheap apartment.
There’s a term for this – lifestyle inflation. It’s an ongoing balance between improving the quality of life and spending on what you don’t need.
It also makes finding your financial independence number much more difficult. If you’re 22 years old and believe you’ll spend that much for the rest of your life, there’s a 99.5% chance you’re wrong (I’m looking at you Early Retirement Extreme).
So how do you calculate what your spending will be in 5, 10 or 25 years?
To be honest you can’t – but you can estimate it. This activity involves creating that estimate using a PERT review (Program Evaluation and Review Technique). It involves listing out a bunch of “potential” things that could raise your spending and then using the PERT formula to see how it impacts your actual yearly spending.
Check out this activity and the calculator at the bottom to calculate your own FIO number.
14. Create a Failure Resume
Almost everyone has written a resume. It highlights your greatest successes and puts you in the best light possible. It’s the dating profile of the workplace.
At my last job, I was talking with the other directors about being more transparent about sharing our failures with the rest of the team. One of the other directors said something that stuck with me:
I know of nothing Adam has ever done wrong.
I’ve fucked up a lot of things in my life. This comment made it clear I wasn’t sharing those failures as much though.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes – both at my job and at home. One bug in code actually cost the company $13,000 (!). I was cautioned against sharing that bug openly, saying it could reflect poorly on me in future jobs.
The opposite happened. The blog post I wrote hit the top of Reddit’s /r/ruby subreddit and the front page of hacker news. People clicked over to view the story and many signed up.
People on the team I managed thanked me for sharing a big failure on my part. It showed how the company responded when something went wrong – by learning from it not by punishing.
Whether you’re sharing them publicly or just with those closest to you, sharing your failures is healthy. Do it.
- How A Basic Investing Mistake Cost Me $250,000 (and I Still Made it Twice)
- 7 Lessons and 2 Mistakes From My First 3 Months of Early Retirement
15. Write Your Rules for Traveling
There’s a saying in investing that the best time to plan out asset allocation is when things are going well. Don’t do it as a reaction, but as preparation.
The same could be said for traveling. Create your own rules for how you travel. This includes what you should spend money on, how you plan your days when you travel, how much downtime you have and what souvenirs you bring back.
Doing this now might even make you a little hopeful of that future trip.
16. Find An Opinion You Hold That Most People Disagree With
Perhaps my absolute favorite question to ask people in job interviews is lifted from the book Zero to One:
What Opinion do you Hold that Many People Would Disagree With?Zero to One
This may seem like an easy question, but it’s actually incredibly tough. Chances are that your politics are shared by at least 30-40% of the US population. Whether you’re vegan, you voted for Trump or believe the world would be a better place with universal basic income – there are a LOT of people who agree with you.
Try coming up with your own answer to that question. If you can come up with an answer that 95% of the population would say “you’re wrong” to, you have a good answer. And not just “I disagree”, but a full out “you’re wrong”.
If you come up with a good one I’d love to hear it.
17. Create Your Own Decluttering Manifesto
The first month after I left my job I focused heavily on creating a comfortable space here at home. With that came a bunch of decluttering, organizing and cleaning. I suddenly had time, and uncluttering is free, so why not?
I suspect a lot of people are going through the same thing right now.
One activity that helped me understand what I wanted to bring into my house was to create an uncluttering manifesto. This listed out what I should allow myself to bring into the house and how I would handle growing clutter.
18. Try A 3-Minute Mindfulness Exercise
I’ve always struggled with meditation. It’s not that I don’t think it’s useful – I do. I feel I get more out of journaling or writing through an issue than by clearing my mind.
Sometimes though when I realize I’m stressed out about something, I like to use this quick 3-minute mindfulness exercise to help relieve stress. It’s a visualization exercise you can use when you need to give yourself a little breathing room.
19. Start Your “Year In Review” Post
For the past 10 years, I’ve written a “year in review” post. These go over how the year went for me. They include the big events of the year, travel, entertainment, favorite books and movies, memorable dinners and anything else that stands out.
Even though we’re only 3 months into 2020 there’s already a lot to write about.
One thing that I love about writing this post early is that it helps me realize there are certain things I want to still do this year. I find myself adding things I haven’t done yet but want to do. Just realizing that helps me get there.
Try starting your own year in review!
- My 2019 Year in Review
- My 2018 Year in Review
- My 2017 Year in Review
- My 2016 Year in Review
- My 2015 Year in Review
20. Set A Monthly Theme
Setting monthly goals can be a double-edged sword. They feel a little too much like work. The time pressure makes them a little less fun.
Instead, try setting a monthly theme. I’ve started doing that this year, starting with focus, finish, and routine.
I set a few themes for the entire year as well:
- Set an intention for every month
- Have deeper, meaningful conversations with friends
- Develop a deep DIY mindset
- Tackle fitness challenges that motivate and inspire me
What I love about setting themes rather than goals is that they can impact me in unexpected ways. For example, in February I set a theme of Finish. My intention was that this would help me do things like complete the Minafi Investor Bootcamp (half done so far!).
Instead, it helped with prioritization in everything I do. When choosing what books to read, what TV shows to watch, what blog posts to write, what to program – everything. I focused on finishing what I started or giving up on (which is a type of finishing).
If I had set a goal of “complete the content for the Minafi Investor Bootcamp”, I might have been more productive in that one area – sure. What was more important was clearing my mind of incomplete projects. After those were addressed, everything had more time!
Try creating your own theme for April. One that will inspire you to spend your mental energy on what you feel is most important right now.
21. Write What You’re Doing Right Now
Speaking of right now, create a “now” list or page. All it needs to include is a list of a few things you’re working on right now (or this week/month).
The idea of this kind of page was created by Derek Sivers and spawned NowNowNow, an entire site showcasing links to other peoples’ Now pages.
Try creating your own!
Bonus: Do These With Your Partner
Many of these activities are designed to be done alone, but a few would be tremendously helpful with a partner.
101 Goals, FIO Number and Start Stop Continue are all ones that are excellent when done with your partner.
Try Them Out!
I love pausing to take time out to dig into what I want to get out of life, or what would help me make a bigger impact today.
Whatever you’re currently facing, this quarantine will eventually pass. Do what you need to do to make it through while staying physically and emotionally healthy.
Bloggers & everyone else: if you try out any of these activities, let me know in the comments, or reach out and let me know. If you do one of these activities and post about it, I’ll link over next to that activity.