Activities — Do you enjoy it? Does it go toward your goals?

Stealing ideas from Stealing Fire. In Stealing Fire, Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal write about flow and other states of ecstasis. They lay out steps for “hedonic calendaring”, where you end up with a schedule of your best activities that happen daily, weekly, monthly, or annually. Part of it is ranking activities you enjoy:

“Step Two: Use the Ecstasis Equation (Time X Reward/ Risk) to rank this list for value. Think daily sun salutations versus an annual ultramarathon, or a ten-minute meditation versus a trip to see a Peruvian shaman.”

Some other inspiration: In Designing Your Life, Dave Evans and Bill Burnett also suggest listing out your activities to create a gauge in four life areas: health, work, play, and love.

Making a list at all is a good exercise. Seeing everything on one page can be eye-opening. Some things look more wasteful when you see them side by side with a productive, fun activity that you’ve told yourself you don’t have time for. With limited time, it’s important to be deliberate about picking activities. (And scheduling them to take it a step further.)

With free time in the morning, I’ve been thinking about how to spend it and the factors involved. I’ve been using a different equation that’s narrowed down to a couple questions:

  • Do I enjoy it?
  • Does it go toward my goals?

It’s a simple grid for ranking activities. Let’s take a look at the four quadrants of the grid.

Things you like doing that go toward your goals: Do these more. This is where you want to spend most of the day. Think harder about this too, because some leisure activities might be very much going toward a goal of building a great relationship.

A solid example for me is playing basketball. I enjoy it (even if I’m not very good) and it’s good for my health. Though this does make me think of the risk factor from Stealing Fire. In that I can’t do this all day or even every day because then I’d have no knees.

Things you don’t like doing that don’t go toward your goals: Don’t do these. Easier said than done, but knowing what’s here in the first place is the first step toward not doing them.

One example for me was reading Hacker News. It’s an incredible resource and a great community. Those things also make it very addicting.

For me it was having a highlight reel effect similar to feeling like all your friends are always traveling or partying when through other social networks. You can only read about so many mega-successful startups before you start feeling like you’re not working hard enough or you don’t want it enough.

I was spending hours on HN and content found through HN. So I stopped.

You might be spending time in this quadrant and not realize it.

Things that go toward your goal that you don’t enjoy: This is an important area. Time spent here probably goes most toward your goal. I’d also describe this as the “I don’t enjoy doing it but I enjoy having done it” area.

Doing some deliberate practice? You’re probably in here.

You grow here but it’s also important not to spend too much time here.

It’s like those RPGs where you lose HP walking through poison gas but you know there’s a treasure chest somewhere there. As long as you don’t spend too much time there, you’ll be rewarded.

You can also find a way to make these activities more enjoyable.

Things you enjoy that don’t go toward your goal: These are your activities that are purely leisure. You have to stretch pretty hard to explain how they might go toward a goal. In a way, they go toward all goals because they help you recover.

It’s important to watch out for spending too much time in this area and the previous area. Too much time working on purely productive will lean to burnout. Too much time here might mean you’re not moving toward any goals.

A lot of productivity advice suggests cutting TV and video games out entirely. I’ll defend video games pretty hard (it’s a reliable place for finding flow and keeping in touch with long distance friends), but even TV has its place. Again, the key is making sure not to watch too much of it.

That’s the grid. I don’t have a name for it. Make your own:

  • Write a list of 20 activities you did this week
  • Map them against each other based on how much you enjoy them and how much they go toward your goals

(If you don’t have goals in mind, well, that’s another post.)

I’ve got a few more thoughts on this that I might write about, like changing activities to go more toward the top left. One example: if weightlifting alone isn’t super enjoyable then CrossFit might make it more fun with he same goal. Another example: if the shows you watch don’t go toward any goals maybe you should watch something more productive.

Or don’t, because giving up Game of Thrones to watch more TED talks just seems wrong.

Coming soon, but for now I’ll spend some time playing Xbox. You know, deliberate practice. Or was it for my goal to keep in touch with out-of-state friends, or was this just a leisure thing…?

Catch you next week!