Each month I look back over the month’s entries in my Bullet Journal to extract the things I’ve achieved, things that are going well or not so well, patterns that are emerging, and any lessons I’ve learned. The process takes a long time, usually in the order of 3-4 hours, but I find the value I derive from it is well worth the effort. This month I want to experiment a little by publishing some of my notes, firstly to reinforce the lessons I learn, but also because, who knows, maybe someone else will find it valuable too.

Achievements

On the habit tracking front…

  • Exercised 28 of 30 days. Eight runs totalling just shy of 60km, five days of push ups, four of pull ups, three of pistol squats, seven of yoga and one ‘other’).
  • Completed daily reflection 27 of 30 days, although seven of those days I only did AM or PM, not both.
  • Meditated 25 of 30 days, usually a twenty minute guided meditation by Tara Brach.
  • Tried to pick up daily Duolingo again, especially because I’m starting a Spanish course at Cardiff Uni this month, but after a seven day streak I felt I was biting off more than I could chew and parked it.
  • Last but not least I published eight blog posts. This is a huge achievement for me, as I’ve struggled to hit this level consistently previously. The War of Art played a huge role in helping me achieve this.

I finished a mountain of admin and projects around the house including:

  • Installed garage shelves (bought on Gumtree) to house our mounting collection of camping equipment. And a non-trivial (as always) garage tidy up.
  • Sold a load of things we don’t need anymore (part of our ongoing Marie Kondo project). This is a slow and time consuming process, but we earned circa £250 and kept lots from going to landfill, which is a real positive.
  • Stitched a big crack our garage wall with steel plates and repositioned our wall mounted clothes line.
  • Implemented some changes on my side project that the client had requested. Also reduced its operating cost by automating turning off AWS resources in the evenings and weekends, reducing my bill from £80-£90 per month to £50 odd.

I made significant progress on completing Your Money or Your Life. I put a big dent in Step 1a: How much money has come into my life (which is a monumental task — and the final figure is scary) and calculated my real hourly wage (less than half of what I thought). I cleaned up and automated lots in my financial spreadsheets to make things easier to manage going forward.

I (effectively) read three books. I finished The Millionaire Next Door which I started in August, The War of Art, re-read So Good They Can’t Ignore You and am two-thirds through Deep Work, another re-read.

I (think I) finally overcame my bad habit of snacking on shit around the house. This has been a thorn in my side all year. I’ve gone for stretches of a week or two using willpower alone, but it never lasts. This month I adopted one of the strategies suggested in Atomic Habits, to create a contract with financial penalties. £100 to my wife if I cracked. It worked a treat.

I started only checking email once per week, on a Wednesday morning, to reduce my tendency to get sucked into browsing the net. So far this has worked fantastically well.

I started taking cold showers. I was reluctant to try this but have learned about its benefits from a good friend and some research. Since Saturday 7th September I’ve had a cold shower every day (temperatures are dropping though!)

Patterns

Not investing in my social circle — Something that stuck out this month again (it was an issue in August too) is not investing enough time in keeping in contact with friends and family, and socialising. This has huge ramifications on other parts of my life, so is a particularly important pattern I need to address.

Snacking on shit — Eating shit once again was an issue this month, as it has been all year. By “eating shit” I mean finishing off the kids desserts, hooking into crisps, ice-cream, chocolate etc. Late in the month I rectified this with a contract with financial penalties.

Digital distraction — Another weakness of mine is getting sucked into internet browsing, checking email and the like. I think a quick glance won’t hurt, but it most definitely does, and strengthens the (bad) habit. Like snacking on shit, I resolved this late in the month, this time with strict rules about when and how I use my devices.

Forgetting valuable information — I (again) realised how much valuable information I tend to forget. I realised this when I re-reading The War of Art, So Good They Can’t Ignore You and Deep Work. I’m trying to stem the flow of knowledge out of my head by writing out my highlights to book notes pages and also to index cards.

Disrupted sleep — This one I’m not sure about. There were a few nights in September when I would wake at between 2am and 5am and not be able to get back to sleep. Although this is improving as I get better at meditation I still haven’t cracked it.

Lack of writing preparedness — I can spend up to seven hours writing on Tuesdays and Fridays, which is ridiculous. Why? Because I haven’t prepared. I really need to brainstorm, research and draft my posts days before to prevent long stressful writing sessions and shite posts.

Lessons

I learned the power of habitualizing behaviour. When you try and improve too many things at once, e.g. too many New Year’s resolutions, you get overwhelmed and end up giving up or caving in. What you can do is habitualize some of them so you don’t have to think about them. They become automatic. You can then move onto the next set of improvements. For most of this year I’ve struggled with two bad and persistent habits: snacking on shit food and digital distraction. But as soon as I signed a contract to pay my wife £100 if ate rubbish food at home, it was like a switch went off in my head. I didn’t even think about it anymore. Similarly with digital distraction, I started using Freedom — which allows me to block all internet on my devices — and only checking emails once per week (with an auto responder explaining my behaviour). Almost instantly I no longer felt the urge to get online, preferring to use my time more productively. James Clear is so right…

Small improvements don’t add up over time, they compound.

I learned that I need a lot more social contact with my friends and family. Being on sabbatical, and without the daily contact with colleagues, I’ve slipped into laziness when it comes to putting in the effort required to maintain the levels of contact I really need in my life. This is the second month in a row this cropped up, and so I’ve made it a key focus for October, starting with taking up Spanish again at the local university.

I (re)learned that deep work and deliberate practice are valuable sources of happiness and satisfaction, something I’d forgotten since starting a sabbatical and focusing on financial independence. Funnily enough, these are the means by which I’m likely to reach financial independence fastest. So I’ve decided to get back into some work, albeit with more control over how I do so. I’m going to be experimenting with value pricing, and improving my skills and side project.

I learned that I’m far more productive and focused when I use implementation intentions. “Being specific about what you want and how you will achieve it helps you say no to things that will derail progress, distract your attention, and pull you off course” - James Clear, Atomic Habits. I can vouch for this; my most productive and focused days and weeks are those for which I’ve thought through and written down what I’m going to do, how, where and when. The difference between days/weeks when I do, and those that I don’t, is like day and night.

I learned that my inbox is a significant source of distraction. It’s the whirlwind in which I mistake the urgent for the important.

I learned to balance my goal of becoming financially independent with enjoying life on the way there. You can’t put your life on hold until until you reach FI, you have to enjoy the journey too. This Mad Fientist podcast about a guy who found happiness when he returned to work after reaching FI helped me understand this better.

As Derek Sivers says in this podcast with Tim Ferriss (at 1:12:36), extracting/distilling/curating valuable information is really valuable, not only for yourself, but for others too.

Tools

And finally, some interesting things I’ve stumbled across and have started to use or do in September…

I started using Freedom to block distracting sites while I work and when I’m tempted. It’s been great so far. I also started only checking email once per week with the following auto response as my explanation:

Hi All,

In an effort to spend more time working deeply on the important rather than the “urgent” I’m checking email no more than once a week. If it’s truly urgent (cannot wait a week), please message or call my mobile phone. If you don’t have my number, thank you for waiting until I can get back to the inbox.

All the best to you and yours,

Tony

So far so good.

I also created offline playlists and bought some bluetooth headphones. This was another strategy to reduce the pull of the internet, through which I used to listen to YouTube playlists while I worked. Instead I learned how to record audio from my laptop in order to create mp3s of those YouTube playlists, which means I can now listen to work music away from my phone, even in flight mode.