Check out my bestselling book on habits, Superhuman by Habit. .
Let's say you're going to put ten hours of effort into something, either a project or a habit. Your goal, or one of them, is to get as much out of those ten hours as possible. What will be important at the end isn't the number of hours put in, but the results.
One of the factors contributing to how effectively you spend your time is how you divide it. Do you do it all in one chunk? Ten one-hour chunks? Six hundred single minute chunks?
The answer to that depends heavily on the task, but for many habits, daily execution is ideal. You can break something huge like language learning into daily chunks that are manageable. You get the benefit of constant forward momentum. It's easy to remember that you're supposed to do something every day.
Someone asked, at a recent reader meetup in Budapest, how I do things every day. At this point it's such a fundamental part of who I am that I don't have an immediate answer other than: I just do them. But having to answer an earnest question made me think about it in depth. I used to be the kind of person who couldn't do anything on a regular daily basis. What changed?
You don't have to look very far to see indicators that maybe we don't have the best relationship with food. Most people are overweight, unhealthy, and making little to no effort to change those things. These are, presumably, good people who want to do what's best for themselves and their families.
The problem with our relationship with food is that it serves as both fuel and as pleasure, and the pleasure aspect hijacks the fuel aspect. How often do you eat what you need rather than what you want?
I get as much pleasure from food as anyone else. I had mandarin gelato in Rome a few days ago that was unspeakably delicious. And even though I eat the same thing every day when I'm not traveling, I really do love my sardines and Chipotle. But I always think of food as fuel primarily.
There's a range of entertainment, from positive stuff like physical activity and museum-hopping down to doing methamphetamine. Each of these has positive and negative aspects, but the former side of the scale is overwhelmingly positive, while the latter is overwhelmingly negative.
I can't imagine that working at a car rental place is much fun. Especially if you're working in Las Vegas and the line is full of angry customers who have waited an hour only to be barraged with company-managed upsells. I wasn't angry, but I was definitely in line for about an hour waiting to pick up my rental car in Las Vegas.
My friend and I got to the front of the line, and immediately started jokng with the woman behind the desk. We said that we'd like an upgrade to a car with spinning rims, and that it must be good for drive-bys. When she laughed and feigned terror, we invited her into the "business". By the end we were laughing together and she upgraded us to a convertible for free after quietly mumbling "There's a promotion..."
Cruising down the strip in our cherry Sebring Convertible, we talked about the merits of just being friendly and joking around with people.
Fundamentally, people want to get along. My sister went to a plant nursery that was slammed on Yelp for having an unfriendly and sour owner. She made it her mission to be friendly every time in, and eventually they became friends. Few people are really mean and nasty people by nature, rather than by circumstance.
My friend Jimmy was working on his business, Minaal. Every once in a while, when you're really working hard, you need to come up for air and take a break. You want to do something that uses the opposite side of your brain to give the analytical side a break. Not sure if that's how the biology works, but it feels like it.
Anyway, his break was to practice the Dr. Dre art of "Forgot about Dre", a gangsta rap classic from 2001. He and I both like karaoke, and that's our traditional duet.
In between rapping and getting back to work, he fired off an email to me suggestion a blog post: the importance of having varied interests.
Tonight I was hanging out with a few of my favorite people in Tokyo. We were talking about people we met while traveling, and one person in particular that we had met at the same time.
I really agonized over the purchase of my latest jacket. For about fifty dollars more, I could get a jacket that was .8 ounces lighter than the other one. It sounds crazy just writing that. In the end I found a deal to get that jacket for the same price, so I was spared the agony of having to make decision.
Managing every ounce in a backpack sounds ridiculous. I get it. It seems like obsession gone awry, excess for its own sake.
But a couple weeks ago, walking through Budapest, I decided to take my backpack with me for the day. I wasn't sure if I'd find some time to sit and do some work, and we were thinking of going to baths, where I'd prefer to have my own soaps. But, as it was our first day in a new city, there would be a lot of walking.
We barely took public transport, instead walking miles up and down streets, across bridges, and up a huge hill for the view. And, for maybe the first time, I realized that I didn't notice the weight of my bag at all. At nine pounds or so, it was so light that it didn't encumber me in any way.
I'm not sure how many countries I've visited in the past year, but the fact that I have no idea gives you an idea. Four in the past week, if you don't count the US. A lot of good flight deals popped up, and I booked them more quickly than I could ask myself if traveling constantly was really the best use of my time. But here I am, in the air between Budapest and Amsterdam, on the last round the world I have booked.
On these trips I've been to a bunch of new places. There wasn't a single one that left me unable to find something to love of the city, but certainly some were better than others. Budapest, totally unexpectedly, is one of the best new places I've been in a long time.
That's not to say that it's objectively better than anywhere else, only that it fits my peculiar tastes remarkably well. I flew into Budapest without being able to list with certainty a single country Hungary borders. That's a good indicator of how little I knew about the city. I figured, like other European cities, I'd go to museums, walk around the city, admire the architecture, and eat delicious unhealthy food. I did those things, but also found a lot more.
Budapest is beautiful. It straddles the Danube river with three different bridges, and along those banks are beautiful old European buildings. But go a bit further in and you also see really well done modern architecture, sometimes integrated with old buildings.
I think that there are two main things worth building in life, not as ultimate life goals, but as valuable waypoints to whatever goals you may have. Those two things are an amazing group of friends and enough money to survive for a long time.
To some people, mostly those who have already done it, that sounds easy and obvious. Others will have done one, but not the other, and only one seems difficult. And to those who haven't achieved either yet, maybe both sound difficult.
But regardless of how easy or difficult these things seem, maybe we can all agree that they're possible and helpful. After all, plenty of other people have done these things already, and don't they seem to be benefiting from them?
Why these two things? Because they're universally beneficial and within reach of anyone. It's not often you can prescribe something universally. On the other hand, there's no simple answer as to how to get them. Each one relies heavily on our individuality.
Some cities I love because they're full of things I like to do. Tokyo, Shanghai, and Budapest, for example. Others I love because of how they feel, but I don't always know what to do with myself there. Amsterdam is one of those cities. I love walking along the canals, I love seeing people biking, and I love the great art, but those things don't necessarily fill my days.
This morning my friends were going to the museums. Great choice, but I'd been to the Rijks and Van Gogh museums recently and wasn't particularly excited see the modern art museum. Most western European countries don't have much for tea, but I figured I'd take a shot in the dark and see if there was anywhere I could go sit and have some nice tea while writing or pondering my future.
One place stood out: Formocha. It wasn't clear whether it was actually a tea house or somewhere that just sold tea, but it would be a nice one-mile walk along the canals regardless.
The sun was out, which I noticed only because I hadn't seen it the whole time we were in Budapest. I walked along the sunny side of the canals, enjoying seeing the drawbridges and houseboats. But when I arrived at Formocha, it was closed.
When I hit them up for blog post ideas, my friends say that I should write posts about how I decide what to do next. I'm not sure if it's because they think I make good decisions when faced with the question, or because my choices are so bizarre that they require explanation.
I don't feel like my decision-making process is so unusual that it necessitates a post, but sometimes it's the things most obvious to us that are most interesting to others. My friend Leo is a dad every day of his life, but I find each parenting decision he has to make fascinating.
What to do next is a question that has to be answered constantly, both in the short term and the long term. What big project should I tackle next? What should I work on this week? What should I make for breakfast?
To further complicate things, each question has nearly unlimited possible choices. Should I do another startup? Become an artist? Join the circus? These tend to be my favorite decisions to make, though-- those that combine imperfect information with possibility trees that can't fully be analyzed.
My natural instinct to procrastinate is about as strong as natural inclinations get. Back in school, major papers were often done on a tiny laptop the period before they were due. I'd then tell the teacher my printer didn't work, and take my floppy disk to the library and print it out.
It's tempting to say that, just like early birds and night owls, there are two equally effective types of people. Some, like me, just work well under pressure and get their best work done that way. Others feel better when they get things done early.
Tempting, but I don't think it's true. Procrastination is worse, and people who procrastinate have a fundamental flaw that ought to be overcome.
For most things, I don't procrastinate anymore. I just don't have the time. My todo list is longer than the day, so things have to be done constantly. I guess in the right environment, many problems are solved automatically.