I'm Tony Wolski. This is what I'm doing now. I keep book notes. Recent posts are below, or browse all articles. Subscribe via RSS.

    Generalisation, specialisation and financial independence

    I’ve been reading about financial independence a lot lately. I like to think of myself as temporarily financially independent — I’m 3.5 months into a sabbatical and have enough money saved to not have to worry about working for at least another year. One of the better books I’ve read on the subject of FI is Early Retirement Extreme. It’s a gold mine of strategies, tactics and principles to help you achieve FI, and personally, forced me to re-think my place in the world and how I want to spend my time in it.

    An important ideal brought up in ERE is that of the Renaissance man; one who strives to develop his abilities to their full extent in many areas of life. A Renaissance man, Fisker explains, obtains knowledge in a wide range of subjects and excels at many different things. He is a polymath, a jack-of-all-trades. “The Renaissance man is capable of many different things and doesn’t restrict himself to vocational skills. He does his own taxes and researches his own investments. He can fix a computer or a broken appliance. He knows how to drive and fix a car, but he has enough time and athletic ability to ride his bicycle 20 miles instead, or run five miles to get groceries. He can play an instrument, dance, paint, or write creatively. He can recreate interesting meals from scratch rather than recipe.” One of the many advantages of becoming a Renaissance man, Fisker explains, is that you become less reliant on outsourcing your life and operations, which keeps you in paid employment (a Salary man).

    In other words, to achieve financial independence it is desirable to be a generalist.

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    Habit tracking

    Habit tracking has become a huge win for me this year. The knowledge I’ve gained reading Atomic Habits combined with my Bullet Journal habit tracker have helped me cultivate good habits and eliminate bad habits that I’ve struggled with for years.

    I keep it simple and commit to a maximum of five habits each month, but rarely more than four. I find I lose focus and get overwhelmed if I try to do too much. I use the columns in my Bullet Journal’s monthly collection, one column for each habit I’m tracking.

    Habit Tracking

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    A guide to spending less time on your phone

    I recently read Ryan Holiday’s post A Radical Guide to Spending Less Time on Your Phone. The post is full of great advice to help reduce your phone use and well worth a read. Holiday is spot on — our phones have become an instant escape, and a constant burden. We find it easier to whip them out in moments of idleness than be alone with our thoughts. We feel compelled to find out what the latest ping was irrespective of what we’re doing in the moment. This behaviour becomes compulsive. We reach for our phones without thinking, reinforcing those neural pathways that keep us from being fully present with our friends, family, children… our lives.

    What struck me most about the post was how evolved my own phone reduction habits have become. I have already implemented most of what Holiday suggests, and in some instances pushed the boundaries even further.

    With this in mind I thought I would follow up with my own strategies to reduce the time I spend on my phone. Some of these overlap with Ryan Holiday’s strategies, some have spawned from Cal Newport’s blog and book Digital Minimalism, while others I’ve devised on my own by simply becoming more aware of my behaviour. I have much healthier, productive relationship with my phone as a result.

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    Gaining wisdom and saving £50,000

    This post started out with the title How a Book Saved Me £50,000. Part way through writing it, however, I realised it was a specific example of a more general, more valuable concept: how we can improve ourselves and our lives by applying the knowledge — the wisdom — that others have worked hard to acquire.

    Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you should gain easily what others have laboured hard for. — Socrates

    I wish I’d read Early Retirement Extreme (ERE) 9 years ago when I first added it to my reading list. Had I done so I might well be financially independent already. I’m glad I read it when I did, though, because in doing so I avoided ploughing myself into another £50,000 of debt, and years of work required to pay it off. It was a close call though. I had my finger on the button. I was hours away from picking up the phone, firstly to try and negotiate the quote we’d been given, but ultimately to give the go ahead.

    As fate would have it I had also started reading ERE in the days prior. On page 4 I underlined a sentence, “…with tens of thousands being spent on marginal increases in functionality.” The note was marked with an asterix, and at the bottom of the page I wrote some marginalia: Currently pondering a £50,000 extension and garage conversion. In the days and pages that followed my outlook was completely transformed.

    ERE marginalia

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    Regret

    In my early thirties I watched a TED talk about the power of time off in which the speaker, Stefan Sagmeister, presents an infographic showing a typical, modern-day working life: 25 years for learning, 40 years for working, and 15 years for retirement.

    Typical working life

    He then cuts 5 years from the retirement section and intersperses them throughout the working section.

    Working life rethought

    The audience laughs and applauds; it seems they think the idea is as novel as I do. Such a simple idea, but for me, profound.

    The idea stayed with me, and in the years that followed I dreamed of taking my first sabbatical. I was never sure it would be possible financially, or whether I would have the guts follow through, so for a long time it remained only a dream. But I continued to speak about the TED Talk with friends and family and in doing so fanned the flames of the dream. I worked hard, caught a few lucky breaks, and in my late thirties, when the possibility of a sabbatical somehow seemed more realistic, I tentatively began telling people about my ‘plans’. One friend commented “If it were anyone else I wouldn’t believe them, but I reckon you will.” I still wasn’t sure.

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