September 2023 Theme: Refine
For each month of 2023, I’m choosing a single word to inspire action. I did a similar experiment throughout 2020. Having something to focus on helped focus my attention on improving in a single dimension over the course of the month. Even a word can inspire action, calm, comfort, and overall progress in a targeted direction.
In June I got off track. I was working on a rewrite of Hardcover and it was taking up almost every waking moment I allowed it to. I stopped journaling as much. I wasn’t doing as much weekly planning. It was certainly not harmonious passion.
That Hardcover update was finished and deployed on August 15th, setting me free! At least that’s how I feel when finishing a project. Sure, there are still bugs and figuring out the next thing to work on, but this felt different.
Since the release I’ve attempted to come back down to a healthy, balanced life. A big part of that for me is having plans for what I want to focus on. Without a plan I can obsess very easily on one thing.
Picking one thing to obsess over that branches out into multiple parts of my life has helped with this. If you’re curious, you can read about the past months and how each of them went.
- January: Depth
- February: Garden
- March: Routine
- April: Passion
- May: Animation
- June: Working on Hardcover
- July: Working on Hardcover
- August: Working on Hardcover
- September: Refine!
For the last year I haven’t worried about extravagance. Between tearing my ACL, surgery, our 14-year old dog Lily passing away, and a lot of physical therapy, focusing on the small details hasn’t been a priority.
This has resulted in some weight gain, excess spending and a slow drift away from some of the healthy habits I developed.
This months theme isn’t about “fixing” all of that, but it is about creating systems to nudge them all in the right direction. Well, and fixing some of them (I’m looking at you streaming service subscriptions).
For my own organization and goal setting , here’s a list of what I’d most like to refine.
Just a few years ago I tracked everything I spent. I even blogged about monthly sharing what I spent! Now a days months will go by without me even checking in on spending.
That might work if you’re using your account balance as a reference for having enough, but it doesn’t work if you’re withdrawing from savings that are supposed to last the rest of your life.
The first step towards reducing expenses is always the same: tracking them. I’ve been tracking everything I’ve spent for the last 13 years. Lately I haven’t been looking at those numbers though. They’re somewhere in my Tiller spreadsheet, but I haven’t looked at monthly spending a while.
- Make sure all expenses are fed into our spreadsheet
- Identify repeating expenses
The first step to this is reducing known expenses. We don’t have many big expenses coming up, but I haven’t taken a hard look at subscriptions in a while.
These expenses also bring me extra anxiety. There’s some part of me that’s annoyed and anxious when I’m paying for something that I know I’m not getting value from.
- Go through all streaming service and cancel unused ones.
- Go through App subscriptions and see what I can get rid of.
- Optimize Imgix images on Hardcover (it’s potentially a $1k/month bill 😭).
- Go through all other Hardcover expenses and see what I can reduce
Make a Budget
Here’s the thing: we have a budget. Or more accurately we know how much we’d need to spend to stay retired. In 2022, and I expect 2023 as well, we’ve exceeded that number. Not by an amount that would cause immediate concern, but enough to throw off all of the delicate math involved in retiring early.
The difference between spending 4% of our investments and spending 6.5% (what we spent in 2022), will be the difference between living like we do for the rest of our lives or running out money in 20 years.
I’d like to have a better understanding of what the monthly and yearly amount we’d stay under to keep our lifestyle. My goal for September won’t be to stay under that, because I don’t yet know it. But by having it we can be better prepared for October.
- Understand what our required monthly and yearly spending would need to be to stay early retired.
When I turned 40, I decided that this decade will be the best one of my life. In order to make that true I need to be in good health. I see health as a means to an end for being able to have adventures. I used to think I needed to be in good health to have amazing adventures, but lately I’ve started to think that unless I’m in good health I won’t even want to have adventures.
That’s been clear this past year where I haven’t had much motivation to hike even though I usually love it. Maybe I only love it when it’s easy? I’m not sure yet, but I know when I’m healthier I’m happier.
Continue Exercising Consistently
Even if I don’t always love exercising, there hasn’t been a single workout I regret (well, except the time I tore my ACL). Afterwards I always feel amazing. I’ve played with different schedules over the last year but haven’t found one I wanted to stick with.
This month I’d like to try something new: making exercise a part of my morning routine. Lately I’ve been doing it at random times throughout the day, but having a dedicate time would be nice.
- Try a 5 day a week exercise schedule: Gym (1h), Short Peloton ride (15m), Long Peloton Ride (45m), Short Peloton Ride (15m), Long Run or Peloton Ride (1h).
My diet isn’t bad, but it’s not great. Lately I’ve been grazing and eating whatever whenever. I’d like to be more intentional about what I eat. This isn’t new. I seem to spend time getting onto a sustainable, healthy diet, then over time it slowly drops off to where I am now. What I’d like to do this month is reset my diet back to higher standards – fully knowing that it’ll only be temporary. 😅
- Spend a month tracking what I eat. I’ve often done this every January, but I’d like to try it out now.
- Limit alcohol to only when I’m out with friends – not at home.
- Have healthy evening snacks on hand.
- Plan some meals ahead of time at the beginning of each week.
Get Better Sleep
Lately I’ve started using AutoSleep and Rise Sleep to gain a better understanding of my energy levels. The results match how I feel: tired. I’m nowhere near as tired as when I was working, but still there’s no reason why I couldn’t make a few changes to get more sleep.
I talked to my primary care physician about this and he had a few recommendations: avoid caffeine, eat dinner earlier, reduce alcohol, get more sunlight, drink more water (including before dinner),
- Go for a walk outside everyday to get sunlight.
- Drink more water. Including a full glass before breakfast, lunch and dinner.
- Go to bed by midnight.
- No screens within 30 minutes of going to sleep.
Limit Social Media Time
Having a completely open schedule means I get to decide how I fill it. Over the years I’ve had unhealthy amounts of screen time on Twitter, Reddit, TikTok and other platforms. I’ve enjoyed Mastodon this last year. The lack of endless scroll makes it possible to “finish”.
Ideally I’d just delete these and spend zero time on them. But I’ve struggled to find things to wind down at the end of the day with the same mindlessness.
- Don’t look at any social media before 5pm.
- Only allow myself to open social media if I’ve checked off everything on my todo list for that day.
- Limit social media time to 1h a day and get off when my phone alerts me my time is up.
- Develop a healthy evening routine without social media
- When social media time is up, try one of the following:
- Prepare my todo list for the next day
- Meal plan
- Work on new projects
Develop a healthy morning routine
Lately I’ve reverted to checking social media in the morning. It’s an awful way to start the day. Rather than try to change this incrementally, I’m going to try something new: starting the day with a little exercise.
For years I started most days with a CrossFit workout before going to work. It gave me so much energy for the day. Working out early also makes me much more likely to treat myself better throughout the day – whether that’s diet, alcohol or mindset.
- Do the exercise for the day first thing in the morning.
- Have coffee in bed with my wife (this is a staple of our mornings)
- Read a physical book – no screens
Is This Too Much?
This may sound like a lot. Instead of thinking about this as dozens of new habits that I want to start doing, I want to train myself to focus on the triggers where these new habits should be applied. That was my biggest takeaway from Atomic Habits, and one that’s helped me start new habits in the past.
Some of these won’t stick, but that’s OK too. I used to try to only plan new habits that I’d want to continue forever. But now I’d rather just set habits that help me make progress. If at the end of this month I’ve refined each of these areas in some way it’ll be a great success.