Which of the habits you've adopted has done the most to improve your life? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.
It started when I read Tim Ferriss' books.
In The 4-Hour Work Week, he explained two concepts:
- Pareto's Law, or the 80/20 principle: "80% of the outputs result from 20% of the inputs.
- Parkinson's Law: "A task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion."
These two laws were the beginning of Tim's reinvention, from burnt-out entrepreneur to free man. He converted them into a call to action, a practical blueprint to use in his life:
- Limit tasks to the important to shorten work time (80/20).
- Shorten work time to limit tasks to the important (Parkinson's Law).
In his next book, The 4-Hour Body, Tim talked about another concept. "The minimum effective dose (MED) is defined simply: the smallest dose that produces the desired outcome."
Sometime after learning about these three ideas, I asked myself three questions: What are the most important things I need to accomplish daily? What if I only had a small amount of time to do them in? What is the smallest amount that I can do that will still yield significant results?
80/20 + Parkinson's Law + Minimum Effective Dose = the Daily Standard
The idea was to create a formula, some minimum standard that if achieved every day, would. After an hour of scribbling and scrawling, I came up with one.
Every afternoon or evening, when I decide I am finished for the day, I take an index card out. On it I write five or six things to do the next day. Speak to xyz. This appointment at abc. Do this. Do that. And at the top of the card, I write the formula, my daily standard:
Med / 2R / Wr / Tr / Pl
Med - Meditate. I do this most mornings. I kneel on the floor, close my eyes, and begin to slow my breathing. If I can't do that, I'll take time throughout the day to practice deep breathing and release the tension in my muscles.
2R - Read for two hours. It could be books, or articles I've saved online, or browsing my notecards. Whatever medium it is, I like to get it done in one block after meditating.
Wr - Write. For me, this means publish something on my blog. But it also means free writing in my journal, or adding quotes, ideas, and observations to my notecards.
Tr - Train. Move. If I'm home, I'll do Brazilian Jiu-jitsu or strength train. Or go out for a cycle. Or take a long walk. If I'm not home, or I can't get to the gym, I'll move wherever I happen to be. You can always find somewhere and some way to move.
Pl - Play a game. Have fun. Laugh. Doodle. Watch some stand-up. Learn something new. Anything.
I've been doing this for over a year now and I've noticed something. Having a standard for each day has made me do more. I may not hit each one. Often, I do. But the point is that it's there every day, as a standard to strive for, as a commitment I've made to myself.
The actual code iterates and evolves over time. I think I've changed it four or five times now. It started off with seven items. Or eight. I can't really remember. But every time I change it, it is because I have gained a sharper sense of what is important to me and decided that I need to refocus and re-calibrate. I am learning what I love to do and what provides the most value.
I first met Molly the week before she moved to London. We'd speak on the phone and be worried. She was under pressure and had commitments. I had multiple things going on. We'd be worried that we wouldn't have time for each other. And I always used to say, "if it's important, I'll make time."
I've identified these activities as important in my life. It's hard to complete them every day. But I've prioritised them.
Once we decide that something matters, once we make something a priority, a funny thing happens. The minutiae falls away. We ignore the little conflicts to save energy for the big battles. The bullshit we spend our lives chasing reveals itself as what it is: empty, frail, inconsequential.
The noise fades into the background and instead of excuses, we find time for what's important.
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