The choice of variables is up to us, but the problem is always there.
How do I optimize my life?
Some people simplify this problem and spend all their time optimizing for just one variable. Think of a young Tiger Woods playing golf, the Japanese salaryman working 16 hours per day obsessing over career, or the young singer willing to do anything to be famous. Although we tend to idolize these as “successes” when they work out, the negative consequences of being one-dimensional can be harsh. Think not of Tiger Woods golf swing, but of his first marriage.
For most of us life is more complicated. We have multiple variables we want to optimize such as family time, friends, contribution, money, status, happiness, security, adventure…
Because our personality types differ, each of us will choose slightly different variables, optimize them differently, and change our approach over the course of our lives.
There are however metavariables, that incorporate many things we tend to value and seem necessary as a foundation for living a good life.
These metavariables are: Health, Relationships, Knowledge, and Wealth.
And today, they’re the variables I’m optimizing for. I try to construct my days such that everything I do is related to one of these variables.
Why these variables?
Because it’s the foundation on which you do everything else in life. A healthy body means longevity, living with little or no pain, being unrestricted in the activities you can do for longer. A healthy mind is calm, clear, focused on what it needs to be. Unrattled by day-to-day problems and resilient in the face of inevitable adversity.
Because they are the cornerstone of a good life. The relationships with our spouses, our kids, friends, and families, these are far more important than wealth or fame or anything else. Personally, it took me more than 30 years to figure this out. But the data is there. People who are lonely die younger. People in bad relationships also die younger. The number 1 predictor of a long, healthy life is the quality of your relationships. Check this Harvard study if you don’t believe me. The older I get the more I’m realizing that what truly matters are your deep connections to the people closest to you.
Because our spectacular ability to learn and adapt is the gift that evolution gave us over the other apes. We can learn anything. We can become anything. Humans have done so many amazing things in the physical realm, in the realm of ideas, and with technology. I feel obligated to explore their findings. Studying history, science, literature. Learning physical skills. Exploring mental states. Discussing philosophy with friends. And then hopefully by the end of this life we can integrate everything we’ve learned and add our own contribution to the immense body of growing human knowledge.
Because it gives us freedom to work on the first 3 variables full time. Fundamentally, that’s what wealth is for. Freedom. Wealth is the systems you build to solve your money problems without having to show up to a job you don’t want to be doing. And to be clear I said money problems, not status problems. Money problems are relatively cheap to solve, while status problems can never be solved even with billions. The only money problems are really just the money you need to eat, sleep under a roof, get transported around, and maybe see a doctor occasionally. Wealth is assets you build or save up to buy that produce cash such as stocks, real estate, books you publish, intellectual property you own. Once the dividends pay 100% of your basic expenses, you’re free. Wealth takes a bit of time to build up, and you’ll probably need to work a job while starting to build it, but I think it’s a worthy thing to work on in its correct proportion.
So, how do we optimize our chosen variables?
Priorities and Time Blocking
We need to look at the contents of our week and block out the appropriate amount of time to spend on each of the variables. Since time is limited that will also force us to stop spending time on things we aren’t trying to optimize or that aren’t absolutely necessary.
We can use minimum (and maximum) time commitments to certain activities that represent our variables. Such as:
- 5 hours of weekly physical training.
- 10 hours of weekly reading, reflecting, and writing.
- 5 hours of weekly activities with my son. Etc.
- Note. It’s easy for the wealth category to consume our lives. I suggest putting a maximum weekly cap on hours spent working on it, not just a minimum commitment. Something like minimum 20 hours, maximum 40 hours.
Checklists and Reflective Questions
Some actions are better measured with checklists than hours. If it’s a week where you plan to fast for 3 days, you don’t need to record the hours. It’s simply a yes or no question. Did you fast for 3 days or not? Check.
Other categories are better managed with daily, weekly, and monthly reflection questions. This is more useful for qualitative things to get an overall feeling for level of satisfaction with alignment of life and goals.
For example, I like to ask each week, “How well did I treat my wife this week?”, “How well did I treat my son?”, “Was I a good friend to those I care about?” Then just reflect on the answers that come up.
Tracking and Reviews
It’s a good idea to track our results over time. I personally track all my hours, and checklists in an excel sheet. I also use a giant whiteboard to track a few specific tasks. Some people prefer using a daily journal. Whatever tool works best for you.
Period reviews are also useful. Every day, week, month, quarter, and year I review my excel sheet and overall progress. These review sessions help me spot misalignments between what I say is important to me and what I actually spend my time doing. Month after month, year after year this helps me optimize better this complicated problem of life.
In the end, we’re all living our own optimization problem. I hope you found this helpful in thinking about how to live yours.
If you’re interested in using my excel sheet as a template for yourself feel free to download it here.