“Freedom and happiness are found in the flexibility and ease with which we move through change.”
— Gautama Buddha
Here’s your midweek newsletter — a gentle nudge to make your week more interesting, thoughtful and productive.
Good Systems Allow For Flexibility
There are some habits I’ve managed to continue consistently for the better part of the past three years or so. These are what I often refer to as my bare minimum or three things rule. It’s working out, doing some puzzles for math and language, and reading for an hour every day. There have been days where I had to shorten their time or intensity, and somewhere my streaks broke too. However, if I look back, I see them happening almost every day.
So when I was talking to a friend about how systems function, this thought occurred to me that it is not about how intense or stringent your routine or life is, it’s actually the opposite. I’ve been able to continue my habits so far because I am not too strict about them. I’m actually incredibly flexible with them.
For example, on some days, I read at 1 AM, which is the last thing during the day and on others, I read at 7 AM which is the first thing I do that day. On some days, I workout in the morning while sometimes, I do it in the evening if I have to go somewhere early in the day. I would be lying if I said I didn’t do my Elevate training in the most absurd places such as a restaurant or a restroom in a mall or even at a party.
The same is true for the intensity of each activity too. If I can’t find an hour, I read for thirty minutes. If I can’t squeeze in a long work out routine, I do a quick 15-minute session. Even on Elevate, I often go for the Quick work out section if I can gauge that I won’t be able to do the longer exercises.
The point is, a good system of life is loose. It allows for serendipity, randomness, other people, emergencies et al. In my experience, your life is not just your life. This isn’t the main character/protagonist situation. You’re as much an extra in someone else’s life as you are important in yours. Even my writing this newsletter is me playing a supporting role in your life, isn’t it?
It’s important to understand that doing the same things every day is not the same as doing them exactly the same way every day because life cannot and would not allow for that. Instead, if you’re playing the long game, your focus should be on a more boolean perspective of things. Rather than asking yourself if you work out every day at 7:35 AM, maybe asking yourself if you work out every day at all is a better way to build a habit.
If you do that for all habits important to you, you’ll end up with a system so flexible that it can stretch and stretch but never break.
Compensatory Planning & Its Tradeoffs
Nudge was on a break for the last week. The reason was that I had to leave for another city to surprise my brother on his birthday. Now, for the most part of January, I was planning on how to create content beforehand. If you’re familiar with how Nudge functions, you’d know that there’s a 7-by-7 schedule where new things are posted every day in some way or the other.
That creates a problem when it comes to making more than one thing any day. There’s only so much I can come up with in a day. While my notes are filled with what I call “threads”, not all threads are fully formed or spun until I spend time on them. So, it wasn’t a lack of ideas that had me paralysed in my planning but the fact that I wasn’t convinced my ideas were fully developed for me to create things in advance.
My solution? Skip the week. Why? That’s where the tradeoffs of compensatory planning come into play. More often than not, especially in the global culture of work, we are told to finish or wrap things before we go out to carry something else out. If you apply for a leave, often you’re expected to finish the work for days you’re unavailable on before you leave. However, there’s a tradeoff here.
If you try to bite off more than you can chew or are used to chewing in any practical context, the quality of your work will decrease naturally. You’re squeezing more out of yourself than you usually do. Now, for something where the quality doesn’t matter much, you’re fine with compensatory planning and doing work ahead of time.
This was true, for example, when I had to write a script to clean data. As long as all the data cleaning and wrangling steps were handled, how well the code was written didn’t matter if I had to do it ahead of time or in a crunch. It wasn’t production-level code that had to be integrated anywhere so it would work. However, for something where quality is direct value, you cannot ship substandard results.
So, perhaps, planning and wrapping things beforehand isn’t always as important as we make it out to be. Maybe the next time you’re asked (or you ask someone else) to wrap something beforehand, a discussion about what you value as a team or as people could be a good place to start.
To Read: The Last Interview Series
This is a different sort of recommendation than those I usually give because it is an entire series. The Last Interview series is about, well, the last interviews of great people. These are public icons and artists in the tail-end of their lives, talking about their entire experiences or the crux of what they stood for in about four interviews per book. I haven’t read all books from it. In fact, I’ve only read two: Ernest Hemingway and J.D. Salinger. Those two alone give enough validation for the entire series.
What’s On My Mind?
In a world that’s becoming increasingly selfish, self-centred and individualistic, it is perhaps a superpower to learn to genuinely value other people in your life.
Quick Update on Nudge › How
For the blog post before the one week break I mentioned above, I wrote a confession of how Nudge and doing this for a year were like. In the post, I delve deeper into the uglier sides of writing about growth and self-improvement, the angst and anxiety of living a life that is not always perfect or pretty but still making sure you show up, and everything in between those extremes. It also paves the way for how Nudge might change in small ways in the future. I hope you enjoy it!
I hope this added some value to your week. Stay safe, stay inspired, and I’ll talk to you next week.