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What's the most important thing on which you could spend your time right now? Really think about it, don't just keep skimming. Maybe it's a work thing, maybe it's an errand, maybe it's spending time with someone important, maybe it's finally starting a new important habit. Or maybe you don't know?
It's not always obvious what you should be doing, especially when you consider multiple areas of life at once. How do you compare investing in a relationship to building your business?
Before you can know what your most important thing is, you must know what's important to you. That's not as easy as it sounds, because we've all been influenced so much by society that it's hard to know what we care about and what we're just expected to care about.
If you don't know what you actually want and why, it will not be motivating enough for you to get it, so there's no point in trying. For a long time I wanted to build a big company. Why? No idea, really. It's what you're supposed to do when you're in tech, but I had no personal connection with the goal, so it never happened.
Once you figure out what it is you really want, ask yourself if there's a better way to get it than to go down the path you're planning on going down. Maybe you want to be rich so that you can travel all of the time. But do you really need to be rich to do that, or is there any easier way? For example, I wanted to be rich to buy an island, but then figured out how to do it without going through the hassle of getting rich first.
It's easiest to commit to a task when you know that the end result is something that you really want, and that you're on the most efficient path towards it. If you have a vague purposeless goal and haven't thought about the best way to get it, it is very difficult to find the most important task to work on.
Once you've committed to a path towards a goal that matters, think about what could happen which would most effectively bring that goal closer. If you wanted to be a photographer because that would allow you to have the best lifestyle you can imagine, maybe having a great portfolio would be the biggest leap forward. Or maybe it's getting a good camera. Or making friends with an instagram model who would promote you.
When you figure out what that thing is, come up with a daily task that will guarantee that you get there eventually. If you can't think of one, choose the next biggest leap you could make and come up with a daily task for that.
So if you needed to make a great portfolio, maybe your daily task would be to take and edit 10 photos, compare them to the best 50 photos you have now, and replace any of those 50 with any new ones that were better. If you did that for a year, your portfolio would be the top 1.5% of the 3650 photos you took in a year. I'm not a good photographer, but I bet I'd have a pretty good portfolio if I did this.
The important factor here is that there's a chain of accountability linking your goal to your daily task. You know why you want to be a photographer, you know what you can do to give yourself the biggest advantage, and then you know what you can do every day to ensure that you gain that advantage.
Then you just do that one thing every day. Almost no one finds it easy to do the most important thing every day, but this process will make it as easy as possible. And, of course, this isn't the only thing you do all day. You might have several most important things for different areas of life. Or you may take 50 photos one day because you're in the zone. Or you can just use the rest of your time working on other useful stuff because at least you know that the number one thing is getting handled no matter what.
I love having bursts of inspiration and hardcore productivity days/weeks/months. There's nothing like the feeling of making major progress in a short period of time. But the best way to ensure long term progress is to come up with a daily most important task that guarantees making huge progress on your most important task. It's not a comprehensive life strategy, but it's part of one.
Photo is a cool platter for serving fish that I saw at the Gulbenkian museum in Lisbon
As I help more people work through their sticking points through coaching, I've noticed that a surprisingly large factor in many peoples' lives is how others perceive them. This is largely a foreign experience to me, and I think that it's been a great advantage to me to not really care what other people think.
I would like to believe that it's some inner well of strength that allows me to overwhelmingly disregard what strangers think of me, but if I'm honest about it, I believe that it originates from not being very popular as a kid.
At some point I realized that I was just not going to be a traditionally "cool" person. I'm sure it stung a little bit to realize that, but it was also freeing in a way. If I wasn't going to win that game anyway, why try to play it?
At the same time, I grew confidence in what I was doing. I knew that I was weird and that my friends were geeky like I was, but I also thought that they were excellent people. I thought some of the popular people were good too, but I didn't think that partying and going to football games was all that great, so I didn't have much jealousy.
I think that there are few absolute black and white rules which should be followed by everyone. After all, we're all different with different priorities and resources. What's right for me may not be right for you, and, in fact, what was right for me ten years ago may not be right for me now.
But I find it useful to have a set of indicators to alert me when an area of my life could probably use some attention to make sure I'm still on the right track. And I think that those indicators are relatively universal. Certain things should raise some alarm bells in all of us, even if our responses to them may be different.
I think of these things as a background monitoring process. I generally assume that I'm on a good path and don't worry about much, but when one of these indicators comes up, I pause and use it as an opportunity to either recalibrate, or to confirm that I'm still on the right path.
What I'm primarily trying to avoid is a negative spiral. Those often start slowly and then accelerate so quickly that it takes a lot more effort to get back to where I was than it would have taken to just stay in a good place. An analog would be debt — the more money you're spending paying interest, the less you have for things that matter.
When standing on the precipice of making a big decision, it's natural to wonder whether or not you're making a mistake. It's easy to imagine that each imaginary path through our future leads to an entirely different place, and that by following one the other disappears completely.
But that's not really how it works. Big decisions do obviously matter, but the following hundreds of decisions matter a lot more, and will ultimately dictate whether that original decision was the "correct" one or not.
Let's say you're moving to a new city. That's a scary thing that you might really deliberate on. Is it the right move?
Well, if you go to the city and sit around waiting for your good decision to pay off, it may or it may not. But if you go out and take the opportunity to make a great new group of friends and take advantage of the strengths of that city, it will probably be an excellent decision, whether it's Toledo or Las Vegas.
I've referenced my potential low monthly burn rate a few times, and people keep asking me questions about it, so I'm going to go into more detail using real life numbers.
It's important to note that I don't actually spend this little every month, most months, or really even any months. The point is that I could if I ever needed to, and also that by having as little as possible mandatory spending every month, I'm able to direct my money towards investments or discretionary purchases. You could correctly say, "Well, I couldn't do this because of _____" and it would be true. I'm only writing this because people always ask about it and because looking at the financial decisions I've made my be interesting.
Most of the reason I can have such a good burn rate is because I've put up a lot of money in advance to buy things that most people rent. I like doing that because it's very easy for me to determine what I can afford now, and not as easy for me to determine what I'll be able to afford later.
I've realized that I prioritize in a pretty different way than others. I don't know that my way is the best way for everyone, but by sharing it I think I may at least expose a few ideas that will be useful for others.
One of my very top priorities is self sufficiency. Not in the prepper sort of way, but just that I want to make sure I can completely take care of all of my needs without imposing upon anyone else. By doing this I can ensure that I have a good life and also that I have the maximum capacity to direct my attention towards other people.
The obvious expression of this is having developed a very satisfying yet extremely inexpensive lifestyle (even with the "luxuries" in my life, I can easily live under $1000/mo) as well as enough effort-independent income to cover those costs permanently. But it also extends beyond finance. I am completely emotionally stable and happy without anyone else. That's not to say that I don't benefit from being around others, only that I don't lean on them for my own well being.
After self-sufficiency, my next priority is probably great relationships with great people. Three of my favorite people were all in Tokyo for the same two days, mostly by coincidence, so I went out for the weekend. Sometimes I fly to San Francisco for just a day or two to see my friends there. Even when I have very important work to do, I'll put it aside to have tea with my friends.
Due to somewhat bungled plans and a cheap flight available to Halifax, I randomly decided to go to the island for a week by myself. Even though the bones of the cabin were pretty much finished by the last time I left, it wasn't fully bug or water proof, so I was eager to go fix those problems.
I had stayed on the island twice by myself, both times because other people's flights left one night, and mine left the next morning. Each time it was less than twenty-four hours and not all that fun because I mostly spent time cleaning up and putting things away. I wasn't sure if I'd like going to the island myself or not, but there was work to be done and it was worth finding out.
I drove the boat over and stepped off on the dock. I was surprised at how quiet it was, because usually we're all talking when we first get there. One of the first things I do whenever I go is just check on things. I see what plants are growing, whether water has gotten into any of the structures, how the dock is holding up, etc. So I walked the trails myself with nothing in the background but birds chirping.
I'll never forget the first moment I stepped foot on our island. We hadn't actually bought it yet, but the seller had agreed to let us camp on it the night before to "test it out". As soon as we saw the island from the boat I knew it was a done deal.
But the specific feeling I had when I stepped on shore was, "Why isn't anyone trying to stop me from doing this?"
It wasn't that I thought it was a bad idea to buy the island and that somebody ought to stop me, or that it was controversial enough that someone would want to oppose the purchase. It was a lingering echo from my days as a student where someone was always there to stop you if you were going to do something unusual.
I've done a lot of things that fall into this bucket. If you read my blog you're probably familiar with some of the bigger ones, like putting a swimming pool in my living room, getting into pickup, selling everything and traveling, living in an RV, buying various properties, and buying a Bentley as my daily driver.
A lot of people don't reach their true potential not because they aren't capable of it, but because they keep using their actions to go into the wrong directions. Or, even worse, directions that are sort of like the right direction, but just enough degrees off that they won't ever get there.
We tend to spend a lot of time working towards our goals, but significantly less time thinking about what those goals should be. My personal theory on this is that it feels so good working towards a goal that we don't really care all that much if it's the right one. Short term it doesn't really matter, and our instincts tend to serve the short term.
Think about where you want your life to be in three to five years. Imagine it clearly, so that it feels like you're actually there. How do you spend your time? Who is around you? Where are you? What are your plans for the week?
Some people find this exercise easy, but most don't. It's hard projecting in the future, so take your time with it. If you think about details and they don't fit, rewrite the future. Sometimes just living the fantasy in your mind is enough to realize it's not actually what you want.
I visited my girlfriend's new apartment this week and after one night there insisted on getting her cotton sheets to replace the poly-blend sheets she already had. I think she thought I was a little bit nuts, but materials matter a lot to me.
And because I'm more obsessed with these things than the average person, I'm in a good position to talk about materials and why they matter. At the same time, I'm not really an expert in materials, so I can talk about them in general but not specifically. I don't really know the pros and cons of most types of wood or metal, for example.
It's indisputable that life is better than ever for humans overall, and a lot of that is due to advances in materials. Better metal alloys, better glass, and plastics have totally changed our lives. Items that were out of the reach to all but nobility can now be bought at dime stores. We can package food and water with an efficiency we couldn't dream of in the 1800s.
The downside, though, is that plastic is so comparatively cheap that we tend to use it even when it's one of the worst material choices available.