Check out my bestselling book on habits, Superhuman by Habit. .
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.
I always look forward to the first of the month, and ironically it's because there's a bit of work that I do every first that I really look forward to. I write a couple monthly reviews.
One of them is for CruiseSheet, but another is just for life in general. I send it to two friends who usually send me monthly reviews back.
If you feel like you're getting a lot done on a daily basis, that's great. Or maybe it's not. A very common trap, one I've spend a bit of time in myself, is immersing oneself in work that feels important and keeps one busy, but doesn't actually produce anything. This applies to work beyond career — it could also be said about working out, learning, social life, or anything else.
Longer periods of time don't have the same paradox. If you look back at your year and can list all of the things you accomplished that year, they're probably all important. Busy work gets forgotten by the end of the year. A month is similar to a year in this regard. Looking back at a month is usually a pretty good reflection of your progress in life in general.
I had intended to come back to the island once more before building the cabin, but the timing didn't work out. I nervously climbed up the hill to check the spot that I had decided to build on. Was it as clear as I remembered it? I forgot to take pictures.
At first it looked fine, but when I brought the tape measure out, I realized that the area wasn't nearly big enough to build the cabin. The builders were coming the next day.
I went back to the yurt, the main structure on the island, to get the loppers to continue clearing. But before I left the yurt, rain started to pour down. A few minutes later I also realized that the yurt roof was leaking badly.
Then the lumber company called me, told me that some of my special order items were running late, and that due to a complicated situation involving the credit card preauthorization, they couldn't get me any materials at all for a couple days at least.
One of my friends remarked that I'm really obsessed with value. It's true. I love spending money on things that are great value and I hate spending money on things that are a bad value. I thought I'd share a few examples of ways I've spent money that feel like good and bad values.
Island -- Good
The island may be the best money I've ever spent. I'm here now, bugbitten, sunburned, and happy. It's a pretty untamed forest that my friends and I constantly hack away at and build in, and that opportunity is what makes it a great value. Maybe some day we'll come here a relaxing getaway, but for now it's just work and connection with nature.
Fancy Meals -- Bad
The glamorous side of productivity and self improvement is the big changes. You put your stake in the ground, decide to make a change, and you do it. You start a new set of habits or a new project. These are positive things, but we sometimes forget about the other side of forward progress.
Throughout our lives we are constantly introducing chaos and friction. A new business might mean a new bank account, IRS forms, email address, and a new web site to maintain. A new relationship can disrupt your regular routine. A new set of habits adds more obligation to your day.
The less glamorous side is systematically reducing friction. Sometimes we forget to do this because reducing friction doesn't look like forward progress. It looks like janitorial work, and that's not very exciting.
But reducing friction is what helps you get the most out of each stroke. It makes it so that you can sustain your progress and do more each day with the same amount of effort.
In 2003, Rick Rubin offered me a ride in his Bentley Arnage. I declined because I thought the place we were going was within walking distance, and only after he drove off did I realize that I was thinking of the wrong place and had missed a chance to ride in what I still believe is the most beautiful car ever built.
Ten years later I was reading an article of the top ten most depreciated cars, and the journey from number ten to number one ended in that very car, the Bentley Arnage. Bentleys retail for $250,000 or more, but at the time of the article the Arnage could be had for $30,000. That was still more than I would spend, but it brought the idea to earth at least.
I'm not really a car guy. I have a soft spot for Mercedes, coupes in particular, but I'm mostly interested in getting from point A to point B. I've never financed a car, and when I bought my last car the only three categories I'd consider were Japanese minivan, barest-bones econobox, or 90s era Mercedes. I ended up buying a 1996 Mercedes C220 for $1600 and spending $900 to get a couple problems fixed up. It shifted with a bit of a thud and the AC was cool, but not quite cold. I figured it would last a year or so, but it's still going strong two years later.
A few months ago I decided to see if Bentleys had depreciated further. Sure enough, they had. Some could be had as cheaply as $20k. The Mercedes was still clunking along, but at that price I couldn't help but do a little research. What I found whipped me into a bit of a frenzy.