January 2020 Theme: Focus
For all of 2020, I’m trying something different. Every month I’m setting a theme. As part of that theme, I’m also setting goals and habits to help it along the way. I’ll be writing about each theme here on the 1st of the month and also updating the post for the previous month with a recap of how it went. You can join my mailing list if you’d like to hear when these posts go up!
My hope with this is to switch things up, challenge myself and try new things. The parts that work I’ll keep doing after the month is over, and what doesn’t will quickly be iterated away.
I don’t plan to do anything too crazy with these themes. You won’t see me “taking cold showers” for 30 days or doing a “30-day no sugar challenge” (although I watch way too many YouTube videos along the same lines). Instead, I’ll base these around what I’m hoping to accomplish that month, or what’s holding me back in some way.
For January 2020, my theme is focus. Focus is a muscle – the more you use it, the better it gets. When I let my focus be taken by whatever the internet or world puts in front of me, this muscle atrophies. What I mean by this is:
Do one (or at most two) things at a time. In other words, try not to let my mind wander from what I’m working on. If I’m doing something mindless like chores around the house or running, then listening to something is fine. If I’m having a conversation with someone then that’s where my attention should be.
Avoiding time-wasting activities. This is effectively cutting out social media. In April of last year, I spent a month completely off social media. It was an eye-opening experience. That was also the month I launched Minafi v2, started training for a marathon and began my hiking odyssey for the year. It’s almost like there was some connection there. In January I’m going to do another month off social media and see what happens.
Be intentional about my time. This isn’t about eeking out productivity from every moment. Instead, it’s about working on things that I’m excited to work on and putting in the time on them. Some of the most fun I have is when I get past an annoying part of something and get to the good part. Whether that’s starting a new video game, working on a new programming project or writing a post that’s been on my mind for a while, the best thing that can happen is to just do it.
Be mindful of why I’m stopping something. Does anyone else say to themselves “I’ll check social media when I’m done with this”? Or giving yourself some reward in that way once you’re done? I want to do this less often and spend more time enjoying what I’m doing rather than looking forward to what’s next.
As part of setting a goal of more focus, I Googled “monthly goal of more focus” to get some ideas and inspiration. Sadly, the result was something I wrote almost 3 years ago: Improve Your Focus By Setting Monthly Goals. ?
As part of this theme, I’m not aiming to spend lots of time in a “flow” state working on things. Since I stopped programming full-time getting into the flow has been elusive. I would like to set myself up for getting there more often, and this month should be a step in that direction.
One book I enjoyed recently was 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. Like just about any book about productivity, it’s was a good reminder of where I was spending my time on things that brought me joy and which things weren’t.
One activity from the book was tracking your time for a week – something I’ve done on and off many times. Imagine my shock when I was spending an hour on social media each day + another 3 hours on social media and TV at the same time. (Some of that was also spent cuddling up with Mrs. Minafi!).
Even if I have a lot of time on my hands to spend, do I really want to waste that much of it checking the news and reading memes? No.
How Will I Get There?
Get off social media for the month. I’ll be taking a break from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Reddit for January. From my experience last April this will be tough at first but will get easier. I’ll still allow myself to read The New York Times and check blogs on Feedly. Also, I’ll allow myself to check Minafi’s Twitter once a week (Sunday afternoon) for messages and at replies. I’ll track this with a Y/N with the Everyday app.
Try a morning meditation every day. My idea of a “morning meditation” isn’t sitting quietly, breathing and clearing my mind. For me, it’s reading a page from The Daily Stoic and reflecting on the idea. I did this for the first 6 months of 2019. Every. single. day. It was useful and enjoyable and only takes a few minutes. Without social media I’ll have a lot more time after all, right? I’ll track this with a Y/N with the Everyday app.
Set aside dedicated time for activities. This one is a bit weird. When you have a completely flexible schedule, building momentum can be a struggle. With that in mind, I’m setting myself a goal here: get out of bed by 10 AM every MWF and work on something (anything) until at least 5 PM. This can be anything from chores around the house to playing a video game to working on Minafi to cooking something. I’ll track this with a Y/N with the Everyday app only on these three days.
Set 3 tasks every day in Todoist. Last year I spent a few months doing this every day and it was a very useful activity. It made me feel more productive, gave my days a little more direction and I got the satisfaction of checking something off my list every day! I typically like to do this a few days ahead of time by scheduling an entire week of tasks. That system fails if I don’t follow through every day, but when it works it’s amazing.
Eliminate distractions. I have a confession: I usually don’t have Slack, email or Twitter running on my computer. I’ll turn them on occasionally and check them, but usually turn them off. The same can’t be said about my phone. Even though social media is hidden away in a folder, I have full muscle memory of how to get there down to an art. As part of this month, I’ll be uninstalling apps, leaving Slack groups, only checking email once a day and not letting other people’s schedules dictate my time on these services.
This last one pays off a lot over time. A lot of the systems and organization I set up during my last month off of social media is still being used today.
What Do I Hope To Get Out Of It?
OK, so why focus on, er, focus? Well, what I really want to do is get into more of a habit of creativity and progress while building up my focus muscle that has recently shrunk.
I recently heard a great question:
If you had an extra 15 minutes a week, what would you do?
Many people were piling on answering “I’d exercise!” or “I’d read!” or “I’d draw!”. These people are fooling themselves. You have 168 hours in a week already. Most people would spend these 15 minutes doing whatever it is they currently spend the most time doing today.
When I honestly answered this question it was “Read Reddit”.
My hope in focusing on this theme is to find many 15-minute blocks during my weeks that I’m not using to their fullest and allocate to them to something fun, creative or productive. This includes:
- Continuing to exercise at least 3x a week, maybe even raising this to 5x?
- Reading more books and articles, fewer tweets, and Reddit posts.
- More focused time learning Japanese rather than only a few minutes.
- Chip away at some of the many books I have.
- Build out more of the curriculum to The Minafi Investor Bootcamp.
- Play more video games!
The takeaway here isn’t that I’m trying to maximize every minute of my days. This theme is all about being present, removing distractions that aren’t helping and making slow, intentional progress on anything else.
In many ways this is just an iteration of a month without social media, but with a few other tasks on top of it. I’m excited to give it a try!
Do you have any goals for January or for 2020? Have you tried anything similar to this? Let me know!
Here’s a ranking of how well I did on each of these:
Social media blackout 4/5. I took the month off my personal Facebook & Twitter. I checked in on my Minafi Twitter once a week or so, and took most of the month off Reddit. Even though I did this last year as part of my Digital Declutter, doing it a second time helped dial in some ideas for long-term changes. I kept everything off my phone but did occasionally get on Reddit at night after about 2 weeks.
Next steps: I’m going to keep all social media off my phone. I’m going to allow myself to use Twitter/Reddit, but only in the evening after dinner. Anything else is limited to once a week or less and again only at night. I’ve enjoyed this amount too. Before this, I’d often linger in bed for hours in the morning before getting up and then feel like I wasted my day. At night I feel satisfied with my day and it feels more like unwinding rather than wasting time.
Try a morning meditation every day 3/5. I kept up with this one for about 10 days of the month. Between everything else going on, I was getting up early before Mrs. Minafi and heading out many days. I changed from my morning meditation involving reading to involving a long morning walk.
Next steps: Continue reading a page from The Daily Stoic every day! I’m about halfway through it now, but could easily restart at the beginning when I’m through it. We’ll see.
Set aside dedicated time for activities 3/5. This one is a little weird this month. I mentioned I wanted to “get out of bed by 10 AM every MWF and work on something (anything) until at least 5 PM” and I ended up doing that pretty much every weekday. That doesn’t mean I accomplished what I wanted to, but I do feel like I increased my ability to focus.
Next steps: Continue making sure to get out of bed by 11 AM every MWF – or being actively working on something in bed. “Something” can be anything productive. I’m pushing this back to 11 AM too so I can have more time to read each morning, which has been my favorite way to wake up since I stopped starting the day on Twitter.
Set 3 tasks every day in Todoist 1/5. Yeah, I failed miserably at this one. Due to some shakeups with my schedule, I had a lot less time than I planned. I didn’t adapt to those changes and this one ended up being completely skipped. Looking at my Todoist today I see tasks from over a week ago that I still haven’t done.
Next steps: I still like having some tasks for the week planned out, but I may try to ease up and even just pick one important task, every other day. I think that’d be a good way to start getting back into the habit of checking my todo list.
Eliminate distractions 5/5. Whew, one thing went great! After a few weeks without social media, I found myself pulling my phone out of my pocket a lot less often. Add to that some creative projects I’ve wanted to work on and I had fun doing other things. Looking forward to seeing how this pays off over time!
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