The cycles of life

I used to think planning was cool. I’d sit and ponder all the things I’d like to do. What I wanted to accomplish by the time I’m thirty, forty, fifty. The things I’d like to have done and be doing at all these different points in different areas of my life. But I don’t do that anymore.

I think it began with an idea from James Altucher. He says that when he consistently completes his daily practice—coming up with ten ideas, exercising, meditating, playing—his life changes every six months. In ways that he couldn’t have foreseen. This makes sense because if you get one percent better every day, then after six months, your life is many percent better and many percent different. 

Now take the idea of the daily practice and combine it with Scott Adam’s idea of systems instead of goals. For example, say you want to increase your “fitness.” A goal-based approach would be to target lifting a certain weight. A systems-based approach would be to exercise every day. See the difference?

So there we have two building blocks. One, your life can change dramatically every six months. Two, focusing on the process yields more than focusing on goals and specific outcomes. Here’s a third building block.

The pace of the world is accelerating. There’s more instability, more uncertainty, and more options available to every single person. The landscape is shifting considerably faster than it used to, which means that it’s harder to plan ahead. Defined paths become possible paths. Certainties become options. The further you try to plan into the future, the more likely it is your plans will have to adapt to evolving circumstances. So if you’re smart, you don’t waste time and energy making long term plans. Instead, you accelerate the cycle of action and reflection, of execution, observation and adaptation. 

Combine these things—a faster-paced world, a systems-based approach, and a life-changing daily practice—and what do you get? What I got was what I call “the cycles of life.”

A life is composed of repeatable units; days, weeks, months, years, and decades. And that is the framework I use to guide my actions. I’ve come up with a daily cycle, a weekly cycle, a monthly cycle, and a six-monthly cycle. And by cycle, I mean a series of activities or practices that I complete during that period. Let me explain.

Every day, I try to do the same things. I meditate, I read, I write, I move, I play, and I set myself internet hours. On top of that, I have a morning and an evening ritual, and a ritual I go through at the beginning and end of a work block. That’s my daily cycle.

Weekly, there’s a lot less to accomplish. Once a week, I try to reflect. I’ll sit for an hour or two and go meta. I’ll consider my efficiency—am I doing things right? Or I’ll evaluate my effectiveness—am I doing the right things? Or I’ll steal some questions from Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans whose aim is to “test the impossible,” to bend and break self-imposed constraints. Generally, once a week I’ll also 1) clear out my in-tray and inboxes, and 2) ensure I’ve blocked off blocks of time in my calendar for the important activities that I complete on a daily basis.

Monthly, there’s even less. I’ll do an exercise I picked up from Austin Kleon. I call it “more and less”. I’ll make two columns in my notebook. One’s heading is “More of” and the other’s is “Less of”. I’ll write down the things I’d like to spend more time doing, and the things I’d like to spend less time doing. Then I’ll adjust my daily and weekly cycles accordingly. 

The final cycle I have is a six-monthly one. There’s only two obligations here: the first is to go on an adventure. Every six months, I try to plan a trip or a getaway and do something I wouldn’t normally do. The second is to decide upon a high leverage outcome. I ask myself what single change in my life would have a profound positive impact? Then, once I work that out, I convert it to a process and integrate it in my daily or weekly cycle. For example, if I want to create a business, then the process I assign myself is pitching variants of product or service offerings to a certain amount of people every week.

That’s how I handle long term planning. I don’t do it. Instead, I come up with a daily, weekly, monthly and six-monthly cycle. Collections of activities and exercises to be completed within those time periods. I haven’t been doing it for long, but from what I’ve seen for myself, and from what I’ve learnt from others, doing it this way is way more effective, and a lot more interesting.