Time must be your primary unit

Most, if not all of us, measure success, and what we strive for in the unit of money. Even if we tell ourselves we don’t think it’s the most important thing, we subconsciously do, as we think about what money allows us to do.

The primary unit of measurement defines how you think about your priorities.

While we all believe to think about money as a proxy, and means for experiences, it becomes our master when we treat it as the primary unit. There can never be enough of it – it’s the thing that supposedly enables everything.

As I was just reminded by reading ‘Digital minimalism’ by Cal Newport yesterday, we need to think about time as our primary unit. Time is the thing that doesn’t scale. Time is limited. Time is what we cannot get back. Time is when experiences happen and where they live.

Following ideas that are as old as society, we should start from time. Figure out how much money we need to optimize our time, and limit our money-creating to that. The more material stuff we have, the more money we need to keep it up. When we focus on getting a lot of money to support amazing experiences, we might end up not having enough time left to actually live those experiences.

Here is what Thoreau tells us:

“If I should sell my forenoons and afternoons to society, as most appear to do, I am sure that for me there would be nothing left worth living for…. I wish to suggest that a man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well. There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of his life getting his living.” – Thoreau in ‘Walden’

And as always, the Chinese knew it a long time ago already:

“Those who know they have enough are rich.” – Lao Tzu

Get your primary unit straight and optimize for it!

Mental Minimalism – Free up Your Mind

There is much talk about Minimalism these days. Tidying up your closets, room, houses,… That is all good and I fully subscribe to it. There is another, even more important area though that is much less talked about: Mental Minimalism.

Mental Minimalism – declutter your thoughts.

Our minds are always busy with seemingly important decisions or worrying about things in the past that we cannot change anymore or possibilities in the future that haven’t happened yet – and might never happen at all. We keep ourselves worrying and spending time and energy over decisions that don’t matter, don’t matter yet, or have already been made and are past.

Fretting about the past and future is a topic in itself. It is said that meditation helps to identify those thoughts and then gently letting them go, once spotted.

Simplify decision making

I want to focus more on decision making and which of those are useful. The short story is, if something is repetitive (what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, whether to go to the gym, when to leave for work,…) you should decide once and then just do it the same time every time.

Reduce decisions wherever you can. Create free space for your mind to focus on the important and unique things you really need to decide.

I reduce decisions wherever I can. I wear the same shirt and jeans (ok, not really the same one, the same style), take the same parking level and spot (even if I have to walk further), and follow the same routine and timing every morning. The idea of a work ‘uniform’ was famously introduced and evangelized by Steve Jobs.

Your personal Go bag

To further that thought, assemble you ‘Go bag’ and stick to it.

Get your base set of things you need, always have them, don’t change them. Refill immediately when you have used up a supply. You might carry a little more than what you need on a given day, but you save yourself the mental energy to decide what’s necessary and what’s not (and the frustration if your decision was wrong).

Don’t make it all the things you could possibly need. Identify the few things you truely need to cover the situations you most likely run into. And then stick to that.

A Go bag works for your day job, for your weekend pack, or even the set of things you need for a multi-week camping vacation in your trailer – which is where we are right now.

Know what you need. Refine that list, remove things if you didn’t actually use them for a while.

With my work Go bag, I can go on a moment’s notice anywhere and have everthing I need to be productive. To simplify further for my daily routing, I pack all the clothes I need for the coming week within 5mins on Sunday evening. And I if need I can go on a weeklong business trip without changing anything.

Building repeatable routines is cheap, making decisions is exepensive on your brain, mental power and ultimately your time. Be frugal with your brain power!

Digital Detox

We are out on our summer trip, road-tripping with our trailer and camping out in National Parks throughout the West, and life is good. Really good!

I was reflecting a little bit on what is different, what makes this feel so much different from the daily routines we are in.

There are several things. Obviously we don’t have to work or tend to our Honey-Do lists. We are a little further away from our worries, which helps us let go of them a little more often. We are forced back to a simpler lifestyle – camping and making do with fewer things – which usually makes us happier than juggling our possessions and toys.

There are many reasons and I could go on with my (longer) list. However, I think a big one is also to disconnect. We made it a point to disconnect digitally. To focus on the here and now, and not the far away, somewhere in our ‘social’ networks, or even worse in politics (official and personal).

Being in a National Park of course helps with that. There is only one spot that has the resemblance of connectivity and you actually have to drive there, limiting it to a quick sync once a day (if you’re lucky).

There are no annoying emails, no Facebook posts that you need to keep up with, no LinkedIn, no politicking in the neighborhood, no politics, no campaigning, no news, no disasters that quite frankly are usually too far away for us to care anyway.

Instead we enjoy nature. We play with the kids, we explore. We lay low in the afternoons after exciting and busy mornings and just enjoy life. We have camp chores, but they are just a part of the natural rhythm and don’t feel forced upon or draining.

It is bliss and peace. It is being in the real world, rather than the digital. It is being in the here and now.

I made a resolution for myself, to put in a digital detox day once a week when we’re back home to preserve and recreate this feeling in ‘normal’ life. I will also try to squeeze in at least half a day of ‘do nothing’ once a week. Bring your vacation insights back into ‘normal’ life and make them return further dividends!

“Making daisy chains takes my mind off”

We need to listen more to our kids, they are the true teachers.

I was making daisy chains with our daughter today – actually she taught me how to make daisy chains. Seeing her work quietly, I asked her what was going through her mind.

Her answer was worthy of a Zen master:

I don’t think anything when I make daisy chains. Making daisy chains takes my mind off.

Had I asked the same question to any adult, I would have gotten a long list of unrelated thoughts back. 🙂

There’s a lot to learn from out daughter.

  • Be in the moment. Focus on what you’re doing.
  • Don’t worry about other things while you’re doing what you like.
  • Find pleasure and passion in the things you’re doing right now.

Watch your kids closely, there’s a lot we can learn from them!

Small changes can have huge impact

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I am not obsessed with my weight. To me, weight is just one input to an overall healthy life and lifestyle. However, I noticed that I had gained almost 15 pounds over the last half-year without really knowing why. That disturbed and frustrated me to be honest.

I did make a plan to do more sports but couldn’t follow through to the extent that I wished due to work demands. Actually I didn’t increase my workout frequency at all. So I decided to accept the gain for now and tackle it in a few months when work demands have calmed down a little bit.

Surprisingly, over the last few weeks I noticed that my weight has dropped back down 10 pounds. I didn’t really focus on anything specific to get there. I didn’t even know what caused it. So I went on a little inventory of changes that I had made to my rhythms and habits lately:

  • I stopped drinking my one or two glasses of wine with dinner in the evening to have a better sleep
  • I stopped drinking a protein shake in the morning and a few lattes throughout the day, because milk left me with a ‘slimy’ feeling which I wanted to reduce
  • I wanted to leverage the quiet morning hours at work and thus skipped reading the news in the morning, instead going straight to the shower, which also meant I wouldn’t eat the 4 pieces of chocolate while checking for news

Those are really the only lifestyle changes I can think of, yet they made me get back towards my optimal weight without explicitly trying.

Small changes do have an outsized impact!

Don’t try to make big swoops of dramatic changes to your life. They are hard. Rather chip away on the small things and allow them to add up.

The Four Burners

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I read and interesting article about work life balance by James Clear (https://jamesclear.com/four-burners-theory – The Downside of Work Life Balance).

The theory

The theory is that you can compare juggling your life with four burners. One for Family, one for health, one for friends and one for career (you might notice that I sorted and prioritized them differently from James).

The statement then is that in order to be successful you have to cut down one burner so you can focus on the others. In order to be really successful you have to cut down two burners.

James talks about various strategies you can apply to get there. I see a core of truth and value in most of them, but I think they are also each similarly dangerous for a balanced life.

Life has seasons

The strategy that comes closest to something that makes sense to me is the ‘seasonal strategy’ – you focus on different things in different life stages. That does make sense, you want to set priorities as you go through life. When you start a new career, focus on learning, when you have kids, focus on raising them well.

Where is disagree is the assumption that you should focus completely during those times. What good is a high paying job and a great career if you don’t live long enough to enjoy the fruits? How much is your wealth worth if your kids don’t talk to you anymore when you’re old and seeking company? How useful is that dream body if you don’t have friends?

Seek a balanced life but set focus points

My point here is that the key is a balanced life. Yes it is! Work life balance got a bad vibe in recent years with our gig economy and always-on mentality. You need to balance though! You need to invest in the long-term!

You can make the seasonal model work if you pick a few constraints:

  • Never compromise on family. Ever. Really.
  • Have a baseline for health. Don’t go below it. You might not need to train for Iron Man every year, but you do want to life to your retirement.
  • Double down on career growth when the return is right. Change your career when it isn’t. However doubling down needs to come with a timeline. You cannot double down for 30 years. Treat it like a marathon with deliberate sprints in between.
  • The friends that truly matter. They will understand if you have times when you’re busy and need to focus on other things. Just explain it to them. They will wait for you.

Never compromise on family, never go under a baseline for health, adjust the rest with a clear focused plan.

Yes, it’s four burners. But if you turn any of them down too much for too long of a time, your meal will go bad before you can serve it.

Life is not a sprint. Life is a marathon with sprints in between.

Be a Woodsman in the Summer, be a Scholar in the Winter


I had a long-ish list of things I wanted to prepare for our Tai Chi classes over the summer break. I also wanted to work on the new edition of our book. And while I’m super passionate about Tai Chi and it’s a big driver of purpose in my life, it didn’t happen. I just didn’t feel the drive for it.

For a while I actually felt really bad about that, but then it dawned on me – this is another example, where you need to see the Yin and Yang. Life goes in waves, flows ands circles.

There is a season for everything. Embrace it!

Be out and soak in the sun in summer. Re-charge with the sunlight. Be outgoing. When the summer fades away and things seem to close back in, energize and vitalize from within. Learn, read, practice meditation, Tai Chi, Yoga, whatever fuels your inner energies.

Be a woodsman in the summer and a scholar in the winter.