I'm back in Germany, which means that I'm back—after a delightful wedding and a jaunt to Park City—to the daily grind of being a productive student. Ha. It's around 5AM, and thanks to the addling effects of jet lag I'm awake, and thinking about things that I want to change in my life in order to be better at studying, and generally just better at living. And for me, I think a key to that is radically simplifying what I do, when.
There are, I think, three principle steps I need to make to better change my focus from the banal to the effective:
- Taking care of myself
- Reducing distractions
- Underscheduling my time
Essentially, this post is supposed to be a guideline for specific steps that I want to take to be more focused—because the economics of behavior dictate that we'll sort of fall into a lowest-energy orbital in the decisions we make, the obvious goal of any system of improvements should be to reduce exposure to those lesser options. Remove them as choices and you can't choose them.
I read some time ago that it's very intentional that television ads at 6 AM are for BMW and Charles Schwab and that ads at 11 PM are for china dolls and Oxi Clean, in easy payments: whether someone considers themselves a night owl or not, virtually everyone is more effective in the morning. A similar spin on the same idea was this Chinese proverb quoted by Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers: "No one who can rise before dawn 360 days a year fails to make his family rich." It's easy enough for me today, with jet lag; making it sustainable could be a little more challenging. With early rising, I'm also going to aim for at least eight hours of sleep a night, with nine hours blocked away being preferred.
It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom. - Aristotle
Because I'm usually pretty good at exercise, I'll address that less here. It's simple enough to say that everyone out to aim for at least two to three hours of exercise a week, whether that means brisk jogging or killing themselves in cyclocross. It keeps you happy and healthy, helps manage weight, improves focus and mental acuity, and even promotes cool things like the production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor—and besides, happy people just don't kill their husbands. 'Nough said.
Now it's time for honesty as I get to point two: how much time do I spent per day on Facebook, Reddit, Quora (how ironic), computer forums, shopping sites, and other online time-killers? And how many times a day to I glance at my phone to see what's new on any one of the myriad communications channels there? Between social networks, email, and messaging, there are currently 12 different ways for someone to contact me on my phone — and counting the fact that it's a phone puts me up to a baker's dozen. That's insane, and that with hours of cheap browsing are unsustainable activities in an effective life. So I need to think on how to reshape the way I incorporate them into my school time: perhaps simple elimination of phone usage, and limiting email checks to thrice a day could be an answer. And then I can hit up Reddit after 5, when everyone is awake again anyway.
Discipline is the training which makes punishment unnecessary. - Pat Conroy
Getting to the heart of it, the most important part for me will simply be to reduce the number of items I focus on to ensure that I'm not overbooking myself and losing the thread of important activities. Double majors have become the new undergrad degree in terms of impressiveness, and we're encouraged to tack on as many extracurriculars as possible, but what does that really show? In some sense, it probably shows that we're spread pretty thin. For me, the things I really care about are pretty narrow: school, learning some programming (next up, Python and advanced Excel), cycling, and experiencing Germany. Everything else is noise, roughly speaking.
I feel so strongly that deep and simple is far more essential than shallow and complex. - Fred Rogers
The nice thing about narrowing things down is that it largely eliminates the stress of time, it promotes focus on the things that ARE important, and it leaves time for creativity and wholesome leisure—important things that fall too quickly by the wayside, and things that make people happy and whole.
I guess none of this is really news, and maybe none of this is even relevant for anyone else, but it's important for me: I waste too much time, and I could take better care of myself. I need to reduce the number of things I'm involved in, and focus on core competencies where I can improve. Radical simplicity is the key. Less is more.