Better Life – Second Quarter Update

2018 is a year of self-improvement.

I’m spending each month exploring a different area of life and figuring out how best to improve and optimize.

So far we’ve covered life planning, personal finance basics, time management, the science of happiness, money and happiness, and health.

We’re halfway through the year, so it’s time for a quarterly check in.

January – Life Planning

In January we explored all sorts of concepts related to life planning.

If you’re looking to get caught up, this recap is a good place to start. I’m not going to cover everything (we have six months of articles to go through!) but here are a few updates.

Who Do You Want to Be?

One area that we covered was how to become the type of person that you want to be.

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.

As of my first quarter update, I had not even started this practice. I’ve done better since then, but not by much.

I was able to build this habit during April and May while I was on family leave. The problem is that my days looked so similar that there was not much insight to be gleaned. I stayed home and took care of my son. I spent the evening with him and my wife. There were very few other curve balls or unexpected situations.

Essentially the only things that I could reflect on were (1) how present I was with my son, (2) how much effort I put into my relationship with my wife, and (3) how efficient I was with productivity while the baby was sleeping. These are certainly valuable areas worth optimizing (the first two moreso than the last, of course) but there isn’t 60 journal entries worth of improvement to be achieved there.

I lost the habit when I went to Japan in early June and struggled to rebuild it while focusing on building health habits in June.

The lesson here is that it’s important to build habits, but trying to build too many at the same time is not going to work. I’ve overloaded my habit-building circuits.

Balance

We also explored the importance of balance in January.

As of the last update I was slowly rebuilding to a full life after spending February entirely focused on taking care of the new baby and helping my wife with her recovery.

I have since officially quit all of my side hustles. While I am at work I am working hard and I am trying to maximize my earning within my day job, but I am not going to be focusing on making extra money in my spare time anymore. It is just not that important at this stage of my life.

The time that I freed up will go to family time, exercise, and things that bring me joy rather than money.

Set Goals that Scare You

As part of life planning month, I set a goal that scared me: write a novel.

My plan was to have a draft of a novel completed by the end of the year. I said that I would start by writing up five quick plot outlines to send to friends for feedback and to determine which to fully flesh out. I had made very little progress as of my last quarterly check in.

Work on this has been very stop and go, but I have made progress. I have picked the story that I am going forward with and have completed an outline of the primary story line. I am now working on developing characters and subplots to weave into a complete story.

I still don’t actually have anything written, but it feels like I have a big first step taken.

February – Personal Finance Basics

The month of February was dedicated to personal finance basics.

The idea was that we would need to revisit the basics after the baby was born. And we did.

The problem is that the situation is still changing.

We had a lot of costs in preparation for the baby in January (and last year). We had the actual hospital bills to pay in February, as well as new ongoing baby costs (like diapers…so many diapers). Over the following few months we had fluctuating income as my wife’s leave was only partially paid.

And finally, we just started daycare, which is the most expensive of all.

Daycare costs more than rent. It is literally our largest monthly expense.

This is a big change that we are just starting to figure out. After years of not budgeting, we have put together our first actual budget as a couple to try to figure out what our money situation looks like after this giant wrench is thrown into our wheels.

We have been fortunate to have the income and to have done the planning necessary to absorb the extra costs without needing debt to cover anything, but we’ll need to change our savings plans for sure.

March – Time Management

In March we explored a number of topics related to time management. This included a number of tricks to increase our productivity.

Looking back at my first quarter update, my entire March section is dedicated to sleep. And for good reason!

Sleep is the lynchpin of our productivity and time management. If we are not getting enough sleep, everything else suffers and none of the other hacks matter.

I can say happily that I am getting much more sleep than I was three months ago. My Fitbit tells me that I am getting around 7 hours per night. I’d like to get more, honestly, but the difference between averaging 6 hours a night and averaging 7 hours a night has been amazing (nevermind the 3-4 hours that I got after the baby was first born).

My attention and focus are worlds better. I can get much more done without drifting off to mindlessly check Twitter. My health and mood are much better, which allows me to be productive for a much larger chunk of the day (as well as be better at maintaining positive relationships, which helps in the workplace and at home).

If it would help to shout it from a mountaintop, I would: GET MORE SLEEP!

April – The Science of Happiness

In April we dove into the science of happiness.

We learned what parts of our happiness we could improve and what were out of our control. We learned about hedonic adaptation and how to combat it.

The most powerful tool that we learned about was the practice of gratitude. I am doing well with some of the methods we explored for being more grateful, but not all.

I have been good about being present and savoring experiences, especially with my son. This might be extra easy because he is such a new addition in my life, but I hope to maintain this mindset and will keep checking in with myself to make sure I do so.

I also have a solid meditation habit that I have spent quite a while establishing. Meditation is not always easy (okay, rarely easy) but even a bad meditation session improves my sense of gratitude throughout the day.

May – Money and Happiness

The month of May was dedicated to the intersection of money and happiness.

Spending on Experiences

The science says that we should spend more on experiences and less on things if we want to be happier. I have certainly done that. Last month I went to Japan for a week and a half and visited a number of different cities. It was quite expensive, but definitely worth it.

This is on top of recent trips to South Africa, Spain, and Peru. Spending on experiences is worth it. Treat yourself to some happiness.

Giving Away Money

Another great way to buy yourself some happiness is to give away your money.

I’m going to give myself an incomplete on this one.

The intention is there and is good. I consistently set aside a certain amount of money each paycheck and put it into my giving fund.

The problem is that I haven’t actually given any of it away recently.

While saving up and giving away big chunks of money is just as generous as repeated smaller donations, it provides less of a happiness boost. By allowing the fund to build up before handing out the money I am still being as charitable, but I am losing out on the happiness boosts that come along with donating money more often.

When More Money Makes Us Less Happy/Balancing The Present and The Future

At the end of the month we looked into when more money would make us less happy before learning about balancing our present and future happiness.

Money is great, but there comes a point where time is more valuable. We can keep stacking dollars in our vaults, but what good does that do us if we’re not as happy as we could be?

Similarly, it is important to save for our future happiness, but it isn’t worth sacrificing our present happiness to do so. We need to find a balance.

As noted above, I have quit all of my side hustles and am spending more time at home. The balance that I have chosen for this point in my life is to work hard at increasing my income from my day job for 45 hours a week and no more. The rest of my week is for myself and my family.

Luckily I have found a workplace that rewards me for being good at my job and efficient without requiring me to take extra hours to advance or to impress the powers that be.

My savings rate is way down (although this is because of the addition of daycare much more than the subtraction of side hustles). This means I am saving much less for the future than I had been. However, I have put a lot of money into the markets over the last few years and am comfortable taking my foot off the gas to enjoy this period of my life, even if it costs me a few extra years of work.

June – Health

June was for improving health. My particular focus for last month was in nutrition and exercise.

I won’t give you a long recap because, well, June was last week. Instead I will link you to my progress articles on nutrition and exercise.

Since those were written I have worked on implementing the lessons learned. I have seen improvements in both nutrition and exercise. I am back to faithfully following my nutrition plan after abandoning it weeks ago.

I am also exercising every weekday. My exercise routine is not particularly impressive, but it is happening every day and is slowly building. I’ll take progress over stagnation any day.

Join the Conversation!

So that’s how my year has been so far. What about yours? How have you done with these areas of your life? What kind of balance do you have right now? Let us know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Better Life – Second Quarter Update”

  1. Great update, thanks.

    * The lesson here is that it’s important to build habits, but trying to build too many at the same time is not going to work. *

    Agreed. It’s easy to think we can add another and another to the list of habits we’re changing. But really embedding, and I mean really embedding, that new habit can take a lot of time.

    It seems you’re having a pretty amazing year so far. Good luck for the rest of the year!
    Mark (The Productive Physician) recently posted…Living Like an Academic Athlete with Eric Benchimol & Richard KeijzerMy Profile

    1. Thanks, Mark. The habit building has been something that I’ve had to learn the hard way. We can do a lot of great things by building habits, but we need to be willing to put the time in and be patient.
      Matt recently posted…Feeling Less NegativeMy Profile

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