Better Life – First Quarter Update

I’ve dubbed 2018 the year of improvement.

Each month we are exploring a different area of life and figuring out how to be better.

In January we explored life planning. February was for personal finance basics. And March was all about time management.

I am sharing as much information as I can learn about each topic. However, at the heart of the project is an experiment in applying everything that I learn to myself.

The end of March marks the end of the first quarter of 2018, so let’s check in.

Life Planning

We covered a lot of different topics within the world of life planning.

If you missed it, a good place to start might be the recap article that I published at the end of the month.

I also included an article laying out what I was planning to do with respect to each article.

Time to see how I did.

Who I Want to Be

I explored some existential issues in figuring out who I want to be.

That’s all well and good, but it’s nothing if I didn’t follow the action steps I laid out for myself

I said that I would work on becoming a better person in this regard through the use of a nightly journal routine.

I would include one thing that I did each day that set a good example for the person I want my son to be and I would include one bad example.

I also planned to pick a trait per month that I want to improve. I would write a few sentences on how I did regarding the trait of the month each night in the journal. (I allowed myself to skip February and start this in March.)

I have done literally none of this.


This is a habit that I never even took a stab at starting. The fix, then, is to actually make an attempt.

I will plan to start my nightly journal routine on April 2. (I find it easier to start new things on Mondays.) My trait to work on in April will be forgiveness.

Okay. Not a great start to the check in. What’s next?


When exploring the issue of balance I wrote that my entire focus at the time was on my new baby and helping my wife recover.

Since then I have been slowly adding other pieces back into my life.

I went back to work at the end of February. (I will be taking the rest of my leave when my wife goes back to work). That was a huge and difficult step, but I am feeling much more in the swing of things now than when I first went back.

I have been going out very occasionally. In the last few weeks I have gone to a book club meeting and grabbed dinner with family. I’ve been better about getting out for walks – sometimes with the baby and sometimes without – although I have yet to get back to any more strenuous exercise. I have planned to go to my last three rec league hockey games but have been too tired for each.

I have been consistent with the blog and with writing since February 6. I did an interview for a podcast recently. I started writing again in my short story group.

All in all, not too bad on the balance front. I still have a ways to go, but I am building to a more balanced life.

Small Consistent Changes

In response to the research favoring small, consistent changes, I planned to start with a short evening journal routine (as described above) and writing every day.

As I’ve already admitted, I failed at the evening journal.

I did much better with writing every day.

Looking at my habit tracking app (I use Momentum on my iPad), it appears that I failed to write on March 1-4, 10, and 14.

The March 1-4 period is a reminder that I need to work on preventing bad streaks. Sometimes stuff happens and you can’t keep up a habit every day. However, if you follow it up by missing more days it becomes harder and harder to start back up. I need to be extra vigilant the day after a miss to avoid this trap.

The misses on March 1, 10, and 14, were all due to getting terrible sleep the night before. I have very little willpower when I am tired. I think I’m okay with missing every once in a while. If this becomes more frequent than once a week I will need to find some other trick for getting more done while exhausted. Until then I will give myself some leeway and grace.

Making Big Changes

As noted before, having a baby is a pretty big change. I’ve also got one more big change in the works, but I can’t talk about it quite yet. There should be news on this front by the next quarterly update.

Goals that Scare Me

I set one goal that scared me: Write a novel.

In making that pronouncement I said that my first step would be to write up five quick plot outlines to send to friends.

I wrote four incomplete outlines and sent them to one friend.

It’s something, though.

I need to put more time into this goal. It should be easier now. I have been good about writing every day and for the first time in the almost two years that I’ve been blogging I have an actual backlog of articles. I’m hitting a point where I can write fiction without fear of missing blog deadlines. This will be helpful.

I hope to have a bigger leap forward on this at the next check in.

Personal Finance Basics

In February we explored personal finance basics.

This was an area in which I already knew most of what needed to be done, but I needed to reset after the big money change of having a baby and changing the way we handle money as a couple.

And we did. Sort of.

Getting Our Financial House in Order

The idea for doing personal finance basics in February was that it would be right after the baby was born and we could analyze our new spending and create a new budget.

The problem is that our income is tough to measure at this point.

My wife’s maternity leave disability pay is doled out in a lump sum when she goes back to work. The disability pay is only a portion of her check, and only a portion of her leave is covered. The rest is unpaid.

At the same time, I am redirecting almost 100% of my paycheck into my retirement account for reasons that I will probably be able to share at the next check in.

Basically, we’ve got no income right now.

This is fine. We’ve got enough emergency fund money that we can be flexible and not be at the whim of the biweekly paycheck. But it makes it difficult to assess our ongoing money situation.

We also still don’t know which daycare we will get into, as each has different costs and a crazy waitlist. The annual cost difference between the cheapest daycare that we applied for and the most expensive is almost $10,000 a year. This unknown has a huge impact on our planning.

For now, we’re saving as much as we can and keeping our spending in check. Once incomes get sorted out and daycare bills start coming in, we will make a concrete plan and figure out goals and budgets.

Time Management

Time management was our area of improvement for March.

Time is something else that has been very much in flux for me this year.

I was working and then I was on leave. Now I’m working again. In a few weeks I will be on leave again.

While I have tracked my time for a week at work, it may be worth tracking my time during an early week of leave to see what my days really look like.

Everything Depends on Sleep

The most important factor for my time management and productivity has been the amount of sleep that I get. This has been wildly inconsistent.

I am bad at napping so I am at the mercy of the baby’s nighttime sleep routine. This started off as horrendous and has gotten progressively better (with some regressions, of course). I am now averaging close to six hours per night. Not great, but getting there.

What I have tried to do is prioritize in a way that allows me to do high-focus activities on days following relatively high-sleep nights.

I allow myself to do easier tasks and time wasters as a block on days when I can’t focus due to lack of sleep.

This has meant that instead of eliminating my time vices, I have been able to consolidate them into tired days. This allows me to make better use of the time and focus that I have.

For now, my evenings are unstructured time. I don’t have any expectations for productivity after work. I feed, bathe, and play with the baby and then put him to sleep. After that I get ready for bed and follow him so that I can get as much sleep as I can. Even if this means going to sleep at 8pm some nights.

For now, this is the best use of my evenings – family time and sleep.

Join the Conversation!

What’s your check in? Have you implemented any of the lessons and changes that we’ve explored over the last few months? Have they helped? Tell us about it in the comments!

20 thoughts on “Better Life – First Quarter Update”

  1. I think you accomplished a lot given the new baby at home! I feel like I accomplished nothing my daughter’s first year besides spending time with her, try and give my wife some time off, and work.

    I’m a big believer in using small steps to accomplish bug goals. It seems like you are working in the right things. Looking forward to the next update.

    1. Thanks! I am definitely working to prioritize time with the baby and giving my wife a break. In a couple weeks I will take my leave and get some quality time with the baby, so I’m looking forward to that for sure.
      Matt recently posted…The Point of It AllMy Profile

    1. Thanks! I think having written about the importance of sleep helped a lot. Without that information it would have been much more tempting to stay up late and get things done after the baby fell asleep.
      Matt recently posted…The Point of It AllMy Profile

  2. Matt – Regarding your lack of journaling, it nice to read that your imperfect like the rest of us. I was starting to question that for a while.

    Good luck with the daycare applications. I personally found paying the outrageous fees for somebody to take care of my son to be very frustrating. It was weird paying somebody to do exactly what I wanted to do myself (spend time with my son).

    I’ll be drafting my Q1 goal tracking next week. Like yours, I’ve had some wins and some misses.
    Jason@WinningPersonalFinance recently posted…Pay Off Debt or Invest – Interview 4 (MSoLife)My Profile

    1. Thanks, Jason. I am definitely with you on the daycare issue. I would much rather be caring for my son myself, so it is extra hard to fork over a bunch of money for someone else to do it.
      Matt recently posted…The Point of It AllMy Profile

    1. It’s been all about prioritizing writing when I have little windows while the baby is asleep. It’s much easier to just start doing something when you have less free time within which to work on it.

      And sleep is the linchpin. Focus and time management become a lot easier when you are well rested. Take care of the sleep first and everything else becomes easier.

      Thanks for stopping by, Erik!
      Matt recently posted…The Point of It AllMy Profile

  3. Hey, we’re all a work in progress, right? 🙂 I think it’s also about being kind to yourself. I’m learning that through meditation. When my mind inevitably wanders, I have to train myself to get back into the meditation. Sometimes I judge myself, like, “What the heck, lady, you can’t relax for five minutes without thinking about something else?”

    So even when we do fall off the boat, it’s okay. 🙂 Get back on the horse without kicking yourself for missing a goal. I’ve found that it’s easier to maintain a good habit if you focus on positive reinforcement.

    P.S. I’d be happy to look at novel stuff if you need more eyeballs!
    Mrs. Picky Pincher recently posted…How to stop procrastinating by optimizing your lifeMy Profile

    1. I am definitely working on being nicer to myself. Historically I have been my own harshest critic and have been quick to berate myself for shortcomings. Ultimately it is unproductive.

      And thanks for the offer on the novel! I’ll DM or email when I’ve got something substantive if you’re still interested in reading an early draft at that point.
      Matt recently posted…The Point of It AllMy Profile

    1. I use an app called Momentum for tracking my daily habits. For tracking things that need to get done I just use a Word doc. I keep a big list of things that need to get done and then sort it into smaller lists for the next month, week, and day. It sounds overwhelming, but once you get it going it is easy to keep up.
      Matt recently posted…The Point of It AllMy Profile

  4. Hey Matt.
    Sounds like a pretty amazing quarter to me, in light of having a new baby at home and all. Congratulations.

    I’ve been working on installing a night-time journaling habit. I’m doing ok, perhaps 65-70% of nights I complete an entry. I’m shooting for 100% but small steps, right?

    Anyway, well done and keep plugging away!
    Mark | The Productive Physician recently posted…Living Like an Academic Athlete with Drs Eric Benchimol & Richard KeijzerMy Profile

  5. You are doing great! Congrats on the new baby. We just had our second in March and it’s certainly a game changer. Similar to you, I’m taking some of my leave now and some when my wife goes back to teaching to finish out the school year (I’m very luck to have 6 weeks of paternity leave).

    Rest up and don’t be too hard on yourself about your other goals. The most important thing is to bond with your new family during this time. I had a laundry list of things I wanted to get done during my leave and have hardly done any of them. I don’t regret it at all because we’ve had a lot of great family time.

    1. Thanks! And congratulations! Isn’t it great having paternity leave? After getting some time off to take care of my baby it is baffling that paternity leave is not standard policy and completely absurd that we do not have mandatory paid maternity leave.
      Matt recently posted…The Point of It AllMy Profile

  6. You’re doing awesome and congrats on the new baby! Enjoy every minute of it as babies sure grow up quickly. Can’t believe ours are already 4.5 and 2 years old.

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