Part of my 2015 goals was to have a weekly retrospective where I’d be distraction free and force myself to just sit and think. I usually did this on a Sunday morning by going outside and sitting on a bench overlooking the river or inside a quiet park. At the end of each of the retrospectives I’d sit down and jot down my thoughts in order to consistently revisit the list in order to keep improving. Below are the lessons of 2015 that I’m adopting going into 2016.

  • Scheduling time for a task rather than just a goal. In the past I’d add tasks as a day event to my calendar. The better approach is to block specific time for a task - this ensures I’ll at least get something done and makes it more difficult to push things back.
  • Minimize the amount of physical things I own and focus quality over quantity. Maybe this was due to the apartment move but I’ve come to the conclusion that I would rather have fewer things of higher quality. This is a bit tough for me to act on since I tend to like getting deals and am pretty cynical towards trends and fashions - I can’t tell what’s actually high quality and what’s just marketing.
  • Sleeping more and better. Some people can get away with little sleep but I’m unfortunately not one of them. I need to get at least 7 hours to be productive.
  • Tracking my time usage better. It’s amazing how much time we actually have and how much of it we waste. For me it’s due to a variety of distractions and I need to be better at understanding how I spend my time in order to improve my behavior.
  • Don’t procrastinate. A simple lesson here but I need to stop pushing things to tomorrow that I can do today. Especially when delaying something ends up snowballing and delaying a bunch of other things.
  • Focus on one thing at a time. Multitasking doesn’t actually work and I end up doing multiple things poorly and slowly rather than one thing well. I typically fall into this habit when watching some TV while doing some work - in those cases I’m almost always slower at my work and it would have just been better to finish the work and reward myself with some leisure time.
  • Distraction free walks to think. This is a rephrasing of the introductory paragraph but it’s important to get away from distractions and just force your mind to wander and think. It’s difficult at first with the desire to look at a phone or a random website but it’s worth it.
  • Knowing at every point why I’m doing something. Another lesson here in understanding how I use my time better. If I’m doing something I should know exactly why I’m doing it since everything comes with an opportunity cost. This doesn’t mean that I need to be productive at all times and can never relax but I should understand the tradeoffs I’m making.
  • Having and evaluating short and long term goals. I wish I did this when I was younger but it’s important to have goals we’re constantly working towards since it provides direction and allows us to measure our progress.
  • Watching less TV. A no brainer here but TV is a pretty big waste of time and I should watch less of it. I already don’t have cable but still find myself wasting time watching Netflix or some football games.
  • Focus on making versus consuming. This is all about productivity but I need to get into the habit of not consuming as much (TV, blogs, games, etc) and instead using that time to create. I’m already decent at this but need to get to the point where creating actually gives me more pleasure and relaxation than consuming.
  • Focusing and dedicating time to finance/investing/routine/research. As I’ve gotten older I can’t help but think about my later life and a big part of is figuring out how to invest my savings now to prepare for the future. I need to be more active in my investments and make sure the money I have isn’t just sitting around depreciating.
  • It’s okay to not have any new insights. During one of my walks I just wasn’t able to think of anything new and that’s perfectly okay. Not everything is about productivity and novelty and it’s fine to just relax and enjoy the moment.
  • Having a behavior consistent with views. A philosophy of life one here but if there are certain things you feel strongly about you need to make sure you act in alignment with it. It’s tough to do given outside constraints but something I’ve been more keen on. This sounds a bit abstract but an example is fighting peer pressure - sometimes it’s better to just skip an event and focus on what you want to do.
  • Just get started with something small, work your way up. Oftentimes embarking on something new feels like a gargantuan undertaking but it’s better to just start and take it one step at a time. The point above on scheduling time for tasks rather than goals helps address this.
  • Identifying bad habits and working on eliminating them. This is all about self-awareness but we all have bad habits and if we acknowledge them and work on eliminating them we’ll all be better off.
  • Abstinence versus moderation. I don’t recall where I read this but it rung true to me. The point was that we’re all wired differently and that some people have a hard time doing moderation and for them abstinence is necessary. A lot of my bad behaviors fall into this territory and I’d be better off completely abstaining rather than walk the fine line of moderation.
  • Thinking about personal brand. I’m not sure this is relevant to everything but I think it’s important to think about the personal brands we have and fostering it. Who knows how the world will look in the future but it’s important to have a good reputation and understand how you’re seen and perceived.
  • Having constant list of todos. I maintain an ever-growing list of todos that I will try to knock out when I have some spare time. It helps take care of a few items while keeping me productive.
  • Finding entertainment from within, not outside sources. Rather than rely on the outside world to entertain us we should find that within - that way we can always be entertained and don’t need to be blocked by anything.
  • 1% better each day. Just a thought here but if we all got 1% better each day and that compounded then at the end of a single year we’d be nearly 38 times better. This is tough to achieve but there’s just so much potential that we at least have to try.
  • Expectations are oftentimes better than the reality. Many times I’ll do something because i have the expectations and thought that I’ll enjoy it but after the fact I realize that it was a waste of time. The biggest example of this for me is drinking - I come in with the notion that it’ll be fun but more often than not it’s the same as any other time. It would have been better to save the money and calories and just have a fun time with friends.
  • When making spelling mistakes, retype the entire word. A small one here but my spelling has gotten worse with the advent of built in spellcheckers and my way of fighting it is to retype the entire word without using the spellchecker whenever I make a spelling mistake. This at least gets me into the habit of spelling words properly.
  • Investing time and value into things that compound. Similar to many earlier points but we should be focused on investing our time into things that matter and help lay the foundation for the long term. In my case these are knowledge and health - investing in both of them now provides compounding effects for nearly everything later.
  • Taking care of the small things. These days it’s easy to get inundated with tons of small things that all eat up small amounts of time. It’s easy to dismiss these but I still strive to take care of the small details.
  • Figure out habits and rituals. Rather than trying to do too much at once it’s better to focus on a few things and do them until they become habits and rituals. Only then should we pick up new habits to adopt.
  • Running in the morning changes mood the rest of the day. It may be tough to wake up early in order to go for a run but it sets the tone for the entire day so I need to just do it.
  • Exceptions are never exceptions. It’s easy to skip something you don’t want to do by writing it off as an exception but it never is. It’s just a rational trick to make us feel better but it’s easy to destroy a habit by constantly thinking of exceptions.

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