Standards gives you a superficial daily account of how well you’re achieving your habits, but the benefits sometimes go deeper. This week, for example, I saw a repeat of last week’s mistake of working too hard on Tuesday. I did it again this week, going hard until 8:30pm (although, unlike last week, I was able to recover and had a good Wednesday).
Although ‘working until 8:30pm’ seems like normative behavior for a startup, I find that my own work suffers greatly when I do too much of it. This, basically, is the ongoing theme and challenge of my professional career. “Working hard” is my default, automatic state, and unless I keep it in check, it becomes “working even harder” the next day, and, finally “burnt out” the next.
My periods of peak performance and sustained flow emerge from a strictly limited, consistent work schedule. On some level, I think I’ve been trying to compensate for the 4-day week by packing more work time into what days I have, and that’s going to stop now.
As far as hitting my goal of 75%, I failed. This week, counterintuitively, I’m adding three things to my chart. The idea is that higher pressure will cause me to take my standards more seriously — one can’t get into a flow state unless the work is both challenging and achievable.
Make your own Standards chart at WeHaveStandards.com »
Right now at Keezy, instead of five-day ‘marathons’, we’re doing two ‘sprints’ (ie, working really hard Mon, Tues, Thurs, and Fri, and taking Weds off). There is incredible pressure to sustain the five-day workweeks of parents, of our schooling, of our first jobs, really of our entire lives.
On the other hand is my contemporary intuition that the type of work I do is both higher quality and more sustainable when I take breaks. Both naps in the middle of the day (20m), and an entire day off in the middle of the week. Though maybe this is a summertime thing (see: this 37 Signals post on the subject)
Anyway, last week I worked particularly hard on Tuesday, and took it especially easy at home on Wednesday. So easy that I didn’t even bother with Standards. That was a lapse; I mean to use the chart for the entire week, whether I’m working or not.
My average for the week was 74.25% (just a hair above my goal!), though I did skip Wednesday so take it with a grain of salt. This week I aim to get above 75%.
It’s been four years since I posted to this blog.
If you’re one of my 184 followers and have no idea what you’re seeing, well, I created a paper-based self-management system called Standards a few years ago. I needed it because I was semi-retired after selling my company / getting fired and was going nowhere due to total lack of structure.
While Standards didn’t ‘fix everything’, it gave me a foundation from which to build routines, and gave me tremendous insight in the “Know Thyself” department. For example, I quickly discovered that I only had the ability to change myself a little each week; that losing sleep is my Achilles’ Heel; that one’s social life is a major source of chaos.
The system is nothing more than a grid of daily habits. Each row is a habit, each column is a day. If I achieve a habit on a given day, its box gets a check. If not, an X. If I can’t remember, a question mark. Sometimes I ‘opt out’ and draw a line.
At the end of the week, I adjust the list of habits, print a new chart, a start again. This used to be a manual process, but now it’s automated at WeHaveStandards.com.
I’m starting to post here again because I want a little more accountability. I’m also expanding the system a bit, well, perhaps I’m making a new system of which Standards is just a piece. More on that later. I may actually not post again for four years, who knows. See you in 2018!
By anyway, last week I didn’t start until Tuesday morning. I got a 40%, an 86%, a 71%, and 100%, for an average of 74%. Let’s see if I can beat that this week.
My Standards system now comprises 7 separate sheets, as you can see, and I use all seven of them throughout the day, Monday - Friday.
Is this a pain in the ass? Yes — sort of. It’s a pain in the ass to set up every Sunday afternoon. It’s NOT a pain in the ass to use. It’s rewarding to use.
Last week I started work on WeHaveStandards.com, which will make it easy to create your own sheets, customized for you, by you, to print out. The “Themes List” is already available on the site, if you want a preview.
The tagline for the site is “Reprogram Yourself”. You’ve spent your entire life being told what to do by your family, your schools, you jobs, the media, the government. You might be a little rusty when it comes to self-programming. My goal is to create tools that help you change that (if you want to).
Shoot me an email if you want to get on the mailing list, or just keep an eye here. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m very happy with this system. It’s so close to perfect for me.
I’m trying lots of experiments. If you get good at the Standards Chart, you can use it as a launching pad for other, less fundamental self-improvement tools.
This week I made something called the “Mind Log” where I keep track of what I eat, what mood I’m in, how much I’m exercising or playing video games… (its name makes no sense, I know). Some items which normally appear on the Standards Chart are now in the Mind Log — like, instead of a “No Drugs” item, I just keep track of my drug intake, it’s right there in my face. This way, the Standards Chart is more about achievement and goals, and the Mind Log is about keeping track of statistics and looking for patterns. It’s two different things.
I’m influenced by Tim Ferriss, author of The 4-Hour Workweek. Two of his ideas made it in — the “Two Do” List, where you write the 2 things you must do today. That feels much more achievable than, say, 6 things … and, in fact, most days, it’s hard to get more than a few big things accomplished. The “Two Do” List forces you to focus on what’s crucial. Another Ferriss concept is the “0-calorie information diet”, which means, don’t read any blogs/books/etc. Don’t input any data. I find that when I wake up, I’m more “hungry” for information than for food. But once I start reading, my mind become preoccupied and it’s hard to focus on my work. So I really need to get the day going before I start absorbing the world.
A new invention is the “Themes List”. I picked a theme for the week, the year, and the decade, and just stare at this list for a minute. I love the idea of humans as programmable systems. Just put some language in front of them, and they start to think and act differently. This is self-brainwashing. I’m reinforcing what’s important. When the week started, I thought of “Triumph” as the destruction of all opposition on some glorious path. By Wednesday it evolved; it no longer made sense to fight every little enemy, but to let shit slide and save my willpower for the real battles. Perhaps this will save lots of energy/anguish in the long run.
Here is a video of my presentation at the Quantified Self Meetup a few weeks ago. I don’t have a firm release date for the website right now, but if you email me I’ll let you know when it’s ready!
Let me explain. I’m not a slacker. I started building a web-based version of Standards and switched to it toward the end of the week. I will introduce that system tonight at the Quantified Self meetup, and three weeks from right now on this blog.
Last week was, without a doubt, the most productive and healthy week in memory. I got plenty of sleep, didn’t fuck with caffeine, and produced an incredible (for me) amount of code. I felt like a machine, during the day, and a normal, happy person outside of work hours. My system seems to expect a certain amount of exertion; if I’m not spending that energy on productive endeavors, it throws my whole life out of whack.
I came very close to hitting my perfect score, except I started running out of steam on Friday afternoon. I lost focus, couldn’t think about work, and had to take a nap. Then I went out to a party … the system sort of broke down on Friday, but I don’t feel the need to change it right now.
Compared to previous weeks, I had less items. Several longtime goals (such as reading every day for an hour) sound nice on paper, but in reality are simply impossible. I think it’s important to remove such items, because their inevitable failure undermines the entire project. The point is to function on a high level, not to create hardship. Eight hours of work per day is the foundation of this system; I don’t need additional, impressive challenges on top of it.
And here is this week’s chart. I decided to set a minimal number of goals, to make it nice and simple. I also gave myself a “Goal of the Week” for the first time.
Here is last week. I went home on Wednesday evening so Thursday and Friday were vacation days.
- I totally failed at my weekly art project; creating a Photoshop illustration every day. On Monday I made an image of my girlfriend’s leg and that was it. I really just didn’t feel like making art in the morning! I think I won’t have an art project this week.
- I’m getting close to 8 hour workdays. Tuesday was 7.5. That goal will remain the same; I think I can achieve it next week.
- "Read book & Instapaper" for an hour a day is too demanding, especially when I want to watch a movie. This week it’ll be "Read or watch a movie".
- I removed an enforced bedtime, instead simply logging my bedtime. For some reason I went to sleep at 11:58 each night.
I wish there were some sort of reward for getting a perfect score. My problem right now is motivation. I’m simply unable to kick major ass. I have to figure out a way to take it up a notch. I want a perfect score; how can I make that its own reward? I don’t think I want to work for a perfect score; I just think it would be nice. Maybe it doesn’t matter as long as I’m working ~8 hours and getting plenty of sleep and having good hygiene.