INTERNAL SCORECARD #9
This is the ninth internal scorecard I've published. I write these for the mix of showing you what productivity and production looks like from the inside so you can get another perspective, and it because it end-points my weeks and helps keep me on-track.
This one covers 14 July to 20 July.
…AND NOW BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING...
Hopefully this cycle of Internal Scorecards 6, 7, 8, and 9 serve as useful and profitable reading for you.
Internal Scorecard #6 was a very short writeup with a lot going on. You can see a packed social calendar, expansionary period, tons of meetings, lots of good and productive meetings, and lots happening -- but a complete breakdown in habits and routines during that period. ("The Paradox of High-Action Non-Routine Times")
Internal Scorecard #7, I returned to Asia with a plan to work on "Long-Term Trajectories and Habit Installations." In this, I overrated my ability to quickly reestablish routines and underrated how fatigued I was after three months of nonstop traveling. You can see the casual optimistic tone reflecting on the areas of my life that were out of a balance, with a plan to immediately fix them, until…
Internal Scorecard #8, "Whilst Running In Tar," is paying the piper, things hitting the fan, etc. The combination of generally not letting my body rest after a few months straight of nonstop building action, plus some slight negative convergence (family member in the hospital that I had to manage, a few other minor problems, at the same time as being slightly run down) -- and I just had a really, really down week.
So you can see the cycle there:
6: Relentless unsustainable expansive action
7: Underrating the toll the unsustainable action took; overrating my ability to turn on a dime
8: Paying the piper, having a broken down off-track week
This Internal Scorecard #9 is going back to the basics and fundamentals and reestablishing order. At the risk of spoiling things, it worked. Here's how --
ADVANCING TOWARDS THE NEXT STEP
"Spontaneous order, also known as freedom, is the highest level of a political pyramid of needs. These needs are: peace, security, law, and freedom. To advance order, always work for the next step - without skipping steps. In a state of war, advance toward peace; in a state of insecurity, advance toward security; in a state of security, advance toward law; in a state of law, advance toward freedom." -- Unqualified Reservations
The above excerpt references a rather controversial and often off-the-rails blogger advocating that you can only get to liberal laissez faire capitalism by going through stages of ending war, establishing order domestically after the war ends (usually through martial law), codifying consistent decision making into a body of law, and then -- and only then -- releasing military and police control over the society.
It's an interesting position, and certainly history is a witness that raw attempts to install a government in a country where the government is not secure often prove both unstable and tragic.
We're not here to talk governance of society, though. We're here to talk governance of self; i.e., productivity.
What do you do when your habits, lifestyle, and production are out of control?
Well, you need to go to the lowest level of your personal hierarchy that you're not operating effectively at, and rebuild from there.
It's interesting, because you technically can function while sleep deprived, poorly nourished, unfocused, fatigued, ill, etc. But as a general and broad rule, if you find yourself poorly in control of your habits and what's going on, you want to start getting fundamentals in order first and foremost.
I did that, this week. I took a couple days -- one I spent just normalizing sleep (stayed up all night, pushed through until 5PM, slept and woke up at 4:30AM). A couple days after that, I burned an entire day just resting and then catching up on sleep.
Well, good. The fatigue was there, my schedule was poor, and then it was fixed.
I got my nutrition in order, and was able to connect with an excellent trainer who gave some great guidelines, and used those to construct a nutrition and fitness regime that I'm very excited about.
I also started tracking all my eating and calories, at least for a while. What's interesting is this: after getting the basics of sleep, food, and exercise in order, I was now introducing a single variable to be tracked.
As Peter Drucker astutely observed, "What gets measured, gets managed." With just that single input and variable, I was now reestablishing the practice of self-awareness and measurement. Which is insanely valuable.
Three more points on reestablishing order --
*I was overwhelmingly behind on a number of things after dealing with family medical issues, and general post-travel tiredness/fatigue in a down week. Rather than set an audacious goal, I decided to chip away at things. Thus, I got my email from around 120 emails requiring action down to about 55 total, while simultaneously answering all new incoming communication.
*Despite being behind on a few initiatives I wanted to have complete, I focused on the week's current and new initiatives. At GGW, that was a journalism outreach program, and some technology aspects. While I'm geared up to have an expansive week this coming week, I wanted to reestablish order -- so I focused on just what was already current, and executed there.
*I had some low-level outstanding chores. I just changed my personal finance system up a bit (canceled a couple cards with annual fees and replaced them with new cards; got a new brokerage and checking account; made some alterations to my old bank accounts in the USA while there). This left some incomplete and unfinished chores -- phonecalls to make to activate or cancel cards, online banking to set up, etc. This was incredibly easy and a good jumping off point to order reestablishment.
Interestingly, I was again like clockwork on all my calls -- only missing one on my end, which was a pure social call, in which we hadn't nailed it down to the point of having a calendar invite. All my GGW team calls happened; all my consulting calls happened and went well; all of my social calls except three which got rescheduled (two on the other person's end, one on mine) happened. I think insulating other people from down weeks or weeks where you're needing to establish order is key. Being behind on your own priorities and expansiveness is… not great, but acceptable. Once you start inconveniencing others, it's possible to very quickly hit a downward slope -- you want to always nurture, protect, and serve your friends and allies, especially when you're down. Those are the people that can be a bedrock of stability in your life, and help you pull out.
THE END RESULT
Fundamentals were reestablished. Quality of life, energy, and morale are high. Most importantly, my incoming to-do work was lower this week than my output -- a very good feeling. As Ivan Mazour notes astutely of Queuing Theory, "The M/M/1 queue is a model of a single server (think a barista at Starbucks) who has tasks allocated to him or her on a semi-random basis and who takes a semi-random time to complete each one. There are two relevant numbers – lambda, which is the rate at which tasks are set, and mu, which is the rate at which they complete them. As long as mu is greater than lambda, everything will be fine. If lambda is greater than mu, then the number of outstanding tasks will grow to infinity – the barista never gets to go home."
The feeling of "being a barista who never gets to go home" is a bad one. When to-do inputs exceed your outputs, work piles up towards infinity. You then need to renegotiate your commitments, work smarter, or work harder to clear it. No magic there. This is the first week I've had in a while where my outputs were higher than my inputs, which is a near-magical feeling when you haven't had it for a while.
(By the way, Ivan's whole site is worth checking out.)
WHY DO OTHER PEOPLE NOT DO SIMILAR?
As far as I can tell, taking a hierarchical, simple, bottom-up approach to reestablishing order is the only way that works when you're down. These are things like working on sleep, fitness, eating, planning the night before, spending enough time in nature, getting time around people you respect and admire, prioritizing, making a list and working from it, and similar.
Often, people try to break out of a slump with dramatic conquer-the-world gusto and bravado. What, are the essential fundamentals not sexy enough?
And perhaps there is some of that. I've certainly often been guilty of trying to break out with something large-scale and creative. Without fundamentals in order, this rarely works.
But I think I understand why. Obviously, if you're low on energy, generally fatigued, have more going on than you're handling well, or just hit a rough patch -- well, it'll occur to you that you ought to change those areas.
And yet, your first attempt to reestablish basic order -- food, sleep, etc -- will often fail. That makes perfect sense in hindsight and from a distant perspective: you're in a low-will low-positivity place, of course the next attempt you make is relatively low probability. But when you're in the midst of it, it's incredibility frustrating.
We retain many of our animalistic systems, and one of them is responding to stimulus by getting conditioned. Learned helplessness is the nastiest of these -- the more often you fail at something, the less you want to try it. So you get into a combination where you've tried to fix your diet, or sleep, or prioritization, or whatever… repeatedly… failed… it feels terrible… and now your mind wants to seek out something new, novel, different, exciting, sexy. Something that doesn't feel like a weight to attempt.
This is a recipe for disaster. Working through on a small scale to establish order is basically the only way. Novel, crazy, sexy ways of breaking out are unlikely to work if not supplemented with a healthy dose of getting fundamentals in order.
MEDITATION AND BREATH
This is an area where meditation practice comes in handy. Almost everyone is very distracted when doing traditional, eyes-closed, focused-on-breath, seated mediation. Your mind wanders, you want to open your eyes, and so on.
Yet, you keep gently re-focusing on breath.
It's incredibly similar to the process of reestablishing a fundamental behavior in spite of a few failed attempts at doing so. For the beginner at meditating (of which I'm still one), your mind is out of control. Every few seconds it's getting you off course and running down whatever train of thoughts it pleases.
It's reassuring, in a way, because you see: "Okay, my mind is running all over the place, but that's okay." As soon as you realize it, you re-focus on your breath. It happens constantly. As soon as you realize it, you re-focus and keep re-focusing.
The same is true of fundamentals. You try to improve your diet. Fail. As soon as you notice it, you again look to improve and eat better things. Fail again? As soon as you notice it, re-focus on eating well. Fail again? As soon as you notice it, re-focus on eating well.
There's been habits and patterns I've wanted to establish that have taken me literally years. I've had things that frustrated and annoyed me for four years, seven years… I think the longest one I calculated was 11 years before getting it down. (I can't remember which! I'd tell you, if I did… but it's funny, once you permanentize a habit, you tend to forget about how difficult it was to establish… sometimes you even forget that a habit is a habit: I don't think very hard about writing a blog post every day, and don't even consider it a habit any more, for instance.)
VERY QUICK UPDATE ON THE INTERNAL SCORECARD 7 HABITS
Of the 10 habits listed on Internal Scorecard #7, all but three are now well underway: the three laggards are "get off caffeine sooner than later" (I've chosen "later" while getting my diet in order), one hour of writing per day (inconsistent on that one), and "schedule calls in a tight window 7AM to 11AM" (I still have calls spread throughout the day, which will take a while to get away from).
I also re-scoped "one hour of followup in the morning" to "followup with one person" -- this sets the bar much lower and becomes clearable each day. This can then set off a virtuous cycle of doing more, or not. But there's no excuse not to follow up with a single person, so it's happening consistently now.
DALIO OF THE WEEK
"Next, you and the others you need to rely on have to do the tasks that will get you to your goals. Great planners who don’t carry out their plans go nowhere. You need to “push through” to accomplish the goals. This requires the self-discipline to follow the script that is your design. I believe the importance of good work habits is vastly underrated. There are lots of books written about good work habits, so I won’t digress into what I believe is effective. However, it is critical to know each day what you need to do and have the discipline to do it. People with good work habits have to-do lists that are reasonably prioritized, and they make themselves do what needs to be done. By contrast, people with poor work habits almost randomly react to the stuff that comes at them, or they can’t bring themselves to do the things they need to do but don’t like to do (or are unable to do)." -- Ray Dalio, Principles, p34
Brief analysis: Good work habits are vastly underrated. Hence, fundamentals. Focus and re-focusing on the fundamentals is incredibly valuable. Going from a "B+" in Work Habits to an "A-" makes everything else you do easier. Getting out of fatigue, eating well, and reaching a good level of physical conditioning is practically a necessity for top performance. Then, prioritization, consistency, measurement, and management. It's absolutely staggering just how inferior creativity and brilliant bursts of effort are to a consistent upward trajectory.
UNTIL NEXT TIME…
Here's hoping the Good Times Keep Rolling, and we can name Internal Scorecard #10 something epic. I hope this rather radical honesty and transparency gives you some useful notes, jumping-off points for yourself or a friend that has magnificently high points and the occasional slump, and many actionable takeaways.
As always, leave a comment! These take a while to write, and I appreciate all feedback tremendously.
I get up early in the morning to meditate which i feel is the ideal time to do. However some or the other things distract my mind and i am unable to meditate. I have tried several things to concentrate on it but have failed. Hence i have opted to do the same in the night after 12, It feels better and i can concentrate more on the meditation rather than other things. I have one question over here how would i come to know whether i have increased the level or how can i increase the meditation level from beginners.
Your Internal Scorecards are amazing. The opportunity to read about your productivity and your perspective in all areas of life really is priceless. Thank you for setting aside some of your time to pass on really awesome information! We all appreciate you so much!
I do have a question about the meditation/mindfulness: when in the day do you do this? Have you experimented with different times? Have you noticed any specific effects (except for possibly the slow increase in control over your mind)?
Early. These days I've been working for an hour or two before doing my morning routine, and meditating as part of my morning routine.
I have tried doing it later in the day and I've actually found there's some nice benefits to doing it later -- but too often I'll forget to meditate if I don't do it in the morning, so I usually stick to mornings.
Great post as always - totally agree with the bottom up approach to re-establishing order. The hard thing is to remember to do it this way when there is so much going on.
However, I know that in the past when I have focused on the fundamentals - sleep and diet - doing everything else is so much easier.
I'm curious Sebastian - what foods do you recommend eating to sustain energy over a long period of time?
It varies because everyone is sensitive to different foods, has different metabolic speeds, and different activity levels.
As a near-universal though --
1. Ensure enough water. That's way more than you think.
2. Add a lot of fibrous vegetables to your diet. A lot of people try to cut foods before they add anything else, which often doesn't work. Get vegetables going on (but not starchy ones like potatoes).
3. Lean protein. I don't eat mammals, so for me it's chicken, fish, and eggs. This is key.
Where to go after those three varies. I've had consistently great experiences with sweet potatoes and highly recommend them as a good carbohydrate source. Steel-cut oatmeal can be terrific in that it's super easy, cooks fast, is dirt cheap, and pretty good for you.
You might go no carbohydrate for a while if looking to drop weight. I have, and it works.
Definitely cut the worst crap out -- highly processed and refined carbs are terrible for most people, as are liquid calories (except immediately following resistance training). I also noticed from controlled trials that fried foods have an unusually negative impact on my energy... deep fried food sets my energy back even more than other bad crap like white bread. Bread is no good; deep fried food is worse (for me). But everyone varies.
Other recommendations? Get lots of good and healthy spices going on. Peppers, mustards, cinnamon. It keeps life more interesting at negligible or no cost. I eat the lower-sugar fruits (unprocessed, and never as juice except maybe after a resistance training session), but I try not to eat too much of them. I'm a fan of yogurt and cheese, though your tolerance for them will vary. I'm not particularly high on rice, but it seems good for some people. I go back and forth about dark chocolate, and I'll regularly eat a small amount before resistance training at the gym, but otherwise don't eat it. Some people swear by having it daily, though. I find some benefits from Bulletproof Coffee and enjoy that sometimes.
Does that help a bit? Water, vegetables, and lean protein as a foundation. After that, experiment to see what your body responds to and doesn't, and read a lot of science and a lot of varying opinions.
For sustaining energy I recommend fats and protein - these can keep me going for hours and hours (including sport) without getting tired at all. If my energy is coming mainly from carbs then I get hungry soon afterwards, and feel tired after sport rather than energised.
I've found that some carbs are better than others though - my experience with different carbs aligns very well with Sebastian's, actually:
oats: pretty good
potatoes: okay (but not when deep-fried)
bread: okay but not great
...although this tends to differ from person to person. So it's worth experimenting...
As a simple rule, I avoid "bad" carbs unless:
i) some immediate energy would be good (then it's probably best in sugary or juice form?) ...for example if I'm hungry and about to play sport (because of already having eaten carbs rather than better food!)... or in a small dose as part of breakfast.
ii) it is a really tasty cake or something
INTERNAL SCORECARD #10
This is the tenth internal scorecard I've published. I started it as a bit of an experiment -- I thought it'd be interesting to share and show my thoughts on production and productivity, and it would be valuable for readers here to see ups and downs that come with building a nonprofit organization while maintaining a solo consulting practice, and then mixed with personal interests in creativity, health/fitness, etc.
So far, it's been pretty good and people seem to love these. This one covers 21 July to 27 July.
A STUDY IN CONTRAST
I remember reading a book as a young boy, maybe eight years old. One of the characters was described as square-jawed, confident, rough-and-tumble, and of bold nature. I thought to myself, "I want to be like that!"
Today, instead of one longer blog post, I have three quick, relatively unrelated thoughts for you.
In the picture you will see a disgusting, slimy mess of a drink.
If you ever read Christopher McDougall’s “Born To Run” (which is MORE than highly recommended... excellent book, especially if you hate running.) then you may remember how the Tarahumara made these drinks from chia seeds.
This is such a drink. If you’d like to make it yourself, just mix together two tablespoons of chia seeds, 300 ml water (about 10 US oz), 1 tablespoon honey, and the juice out of one fresh lime. Then you let it sit for a while. Then you stir and enjoy - if you can.