Lifestyle Design Update #3 – the Good and the Bad.  No Ugly.

In mid-March, I wrote about testing some concepts of Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek.  I’d experimented with some of them for one week and wanted to share what I had found.  The article was full of optimism and excitement. 

A month later, I filed another blog post giving a second update.  Additional optimism peppered the article although I gave a small mention to “those who mock.” 

It’s been more than two months since I started working with some of the concepts that Ferriss proposed in his groundbreaking book.  It’s been a great experiment and has added value to my life.  While this update is going to continue the thread of optimism, there will be some additional caveats thrown in.

THE CONTINUED GOOD

Limiting Email Exposure

Okay, let’s get right to the good stuff.

One of the concepts the Ferriss discussed early on is the need to reduce the noise in our life.  The constant ‘ding’ of those applications that require our attention.  Primarily it’s our email service, but it can be any other social media application such as Twitter that buzzes anytime you have a new follower or a tweet that you’re mentioned in.

At Ferriss recommendation, I limited my interaction with email to two hours daily.  I press the “work offline” button when I’m done until the next scheduled email block.  That doesn’t mean I don’t prepare emails and send them out.  They just wait in the que until I am back on line.  One recent morning I had prepared twenty-four emails in an hour and a half period.  That’s what can be accomplished when you’re not interrupted by the continual inflow of emails from others.  When I turned on the email, my emails went out and were replaced by emails that needed my attention. 

This system has dramatically increased my productivity multiple times over.  There have been times where I’ve need to deviate from the set schedule to open the email service earlier.  Such as when I’m traveling out of town and my set schedule doesn’t make sense.

When I first started using the 4HWW concepts, I was very draconian in this measure.  “I won’t open the emails until the appointed time.”  This was probably good for me, just as someone who is starting a new diet shouldn’t give into little temptations to deviate for a piece of candy.  However, such rigidity caused me stress later when I needed information related to a project.  Since this 4HWW exercise is all about increasing efficiency and reducing stress, it didn’t make sense.  Therefore, I have occasionally turned on the email service early to collect an email and then turned it back off. 

Working from the Home Office

Another concept of The 4-Hour Workweek was to learn how to remove yourself from the office and still do your job.  This was a rather easy idea to implement since I’m an independent contractor.  I can do my job anywhere there is wi-fi and cell service.  It just took me believing that I could leave the office.

Finally getting the courage to do this on a weekly basis has been a true blessing.  My productivity is radically higher on those Fridays and Mondays now.

My girlfriend teases me about how I treat my days from working home.  I still dress nice.  I want to put myself in the working mindset.  She thinks I should be able to achieve it dressed in jeans and a t-shirt.  Maybe I will someday, but right now I feel more confident dressed for work while I’m making cold calls or talking with a client.  Besides, if someone ever wants an impromptu meeting, I can grab my keys and go.  I’m a real estate professional and always want to be ready.

I’m not interrupted while working from home.  I’m also more relaxed and more creative.  I can do more cold-calling and follow-up emails.

What’s interesting is that I feel guiltier at home with free time on my hands than I do at the office in a similar situation.  When there is a lull in activity at home, I will dig in and try to find something to do.  At the office, I will usually go talk with my partner for a few minutes (very inefficient for him and me).  I should be able to enjoy that lull in activity at home and do something personal, maybe write or go for a walk.  This is one area that I need to focus on achieving a more sustainable level of happiness.

The Low Information Diet

In his book, Ferriss recommending testing out “the low Information diet” for one-week to help produce more efficiency in life.  Basically, I needed to give up my ritual of reading three newspapers every morning and my nightly viewing of the news.  I took the challenge and haven’t looked back.  Guess what?  My soul has never been more at peace. 

With all the turmoil in the world, let alone our own country (regardless of party affiliation), the last thing I needed to do was continue to pump that stuff inside my head.

Cutting back on all that outside information, did two things.  First, it freed up my mind for creative things, namely writing.  The second thing this did was opened up my time.  The morning newspapers took at least an hour and a half to read and the nightly news was at least an hour.  That’s two and half hours I got back immediately. 

This occurred just as I was starting the blog which was fortuitous.   My production for the blog has exploded.  Also, I started writing crime fiction again and am now writing my new novel from a place of joy. 

THE UNEXPECTED BAD

Hedonic Adaption Sets In

I didn’t expect diminishing returns, but I should have. 

When I first started the 4HWW, my happiness exploded.  I mean, it was life changing!  Everything was new and bright.  I had more time and I was getting more accomplished.  I was writing several hours a day again.  More work was getting done.  I was spending more time with the family.  How did this all happen?  The book, of course.  My life was suddenly more efficient and I was overwhelmed with joy.

And then hedonic adaption started to settle in.

Hedonic adaption is the concept that after a while we return to a relatively stable level of happiness regardless of how great a positive (or negative) change has occurred in our life.  (Check out the video at the end of this section for a great primer on the subject.)

I’ve noticed that my new 4HWW schedule feels “normal” now.  My new level of writing feels “normal.”  My extra time playing with the boy is “normal.”

I’m not saying any of that is wrong, but eight weeks ago it felt “special.”  Every friggin’ day was special.  I wanted to feel that way, forever!

It was a drug and I was on a high. 

Now, everything seems, meh, normal.

I need to control myself as there are times when I think, maybe I should go back to the office or open my emails early.  Then I shake myself and realized I will lose my new “normal.”  All of that will go away in the blink of an eye.  My normal is pretty friggin’ great! 

I wake up with no alarm and write for a couple hours every morning.  I work from home on Monday and Friday.  Tuesday through Thursday I go to the office.  After work, I come home and hang out with the family.  I’ll slip in a little extra writing at night.  That’s awesome.  My life has never been so great.

I have to be careful not to give up the ground I’ve gained in my life just because I’ve become adapted to it.

Imagine winning a multi-million dollar lottery tomorrow. If you're like many of us, you'd be ecstatic, unable to believe your good luck. But would that joy still be there a few years later? Raj Raghunathan describes a phenomenon called hedonic adaptation, which may shed light on the answer.

A Time Suck Grows

In my second update, I referred to the biggest time suck in your office being you and your co-workers.  Basically, we spend far too much time chatting and b.s.’ing about things that don’t make us or the company money.  Our weekend plans, the argument with our spouse or the outcome of the latest sporting events are daily conversations that take precedent over what’s most important.

By working from home on Fridays and Mondays, I eliminated that distraction.  That’s one of the reasons my productivity shot through the roof those days.

However, Tuesday is my new Monday and it’s now super-sized.  Since every weekend is now four-days away from the office co-workers, there’s a lot of catching up to do.  Everyone hunts me down to catch up and I’m touching base with my friends as well.  Tuesday is the least productive day for me now.  I go to the office and before I know it, I’m heading home.  It’s very frustrating when compared to the productivity that I experienced the day before. 

Over-Sharing Leads to Unwanted Feedback

I have a friend that is in a leadership position within the company.  He doesn’t like the concept of The 4-Hour Workweek.  I made the mistake of telling him how much I loved the book.  I also told him what my plan was with it.  For whatever reason, this irked him.

Now, I’m an independent contractor.  I can work from wherever I want.  However, this friend has taken to questioning where I’m at every Friday and Monday now.  He calls my business partner and says, “You have a problem with him doing this, don’t you?”

My partner wants to work from home as well.  However, he has two little toddlers who excitedly scream, “Daddy, play with me” whenever he is around.  That’s a very lucky experience for him to have, but it is detrimental to productivity.  He and have I talked about the 4HWW and he is all for my working from the home office.

When the summer finally arrives (it’s been a prolonged spring in our part of the country), my partner will work from his lake cabin.  There he will have a secluded area that he can get time with his phone and laptop.  He expects to be there for days on end, possibly a week at a time.  I applaud him for that and support his effort to enjoy his life a little more.

The mistake I made is being too open about my intentions.  I needed to tell my partner what I was doing.  I didn’t believe it would affect my productivity, but it would definitely affect the perception of it.  I wouldn’t be standing at my office desk five days a week.  What I didn’t need to do, though, was tell a couple other co-workers and my assistants. 

I over-communicated. 

It was a case of being too excited and wanting to share the lessons of what I’ve read.  My partner has pointed out to me that I do this with every book I read.  I excitedly share a new tidbit of information that I’m trying to implement into my life.

Some people don’t want to hear that you’re working to change your life.  Maybe it’s because they don’t believe they can change their lives and they will take their resentment out on you.  Be ready for that.  This lesson extends far beyond any application of 4HWW principals, by the way.  This will happen with things like debt reduction, dieting and spirituality.

Sometimes when we are working on ourselves and improving the conditions in our lives, we want to share everything.  We want to spread the good word.  It’s natural.  We become evangelists for our cause.  However, I’d make the recommendation to temper your excitement with restraint.  Keep your mouth closed and go about your business.  Tell only a select few that you truly know who will get it.

Are you experimenting with lifestyle design?
I'd love to hear your thoughts?