Optimize your life #1 – Work on your passions

I figured that it might be interesting to clue people in on the little things I do to try and improve my life.  I find myself constantly picking up on little things that other people don’t do and I’m sure I can help a few people by posting what I’ve learned so far.  So let’s get started.

As you may have gathered from the title of the article, this particular post says something that’s been repeated a thousand times before by other people about work…but it bears repeating.

A very common approach to any problem is called the 80/20 rule…which in this case, means that you can get about 80 percent of the impact with the first 20 percent of the effort.  In other words, if you want to start optimizing your life, work on optimizing the chunks that take the most time.

So let’s look at how we spend our lives.

There are 7 * 24 = 168 hours in a week.  Let’s assume the amount of sleep you get is non-negotiable. Some people have questioned this assumption successfully, (ref polyphasic sleep), which you may follow up on…but I will leave that discussion for later.

Assume 8 hours a day, 7 days of a week of sleep.  That totals out to 56 hours sleeping.

That leaves you with 112 hours where you’re actually awake.

40 hours working
10 hours eating
7 hours commuting

For most people, the next biggest chunk of time is spent working.  36% of the time we spend awake is spent working, and often more.  Work is an important and significant part of our lives.

So let’s talk about work.

We spend a lot of time working.  For something that takes such a significant portion of our lives, one would hope that we’re at least happy while working.

Are you happy at work?

There are a lot of people in this world who treat work as something separate from their personal lives.  They run eagerly out the door after putting in their requisite 8 hours per day.  Essentially, these people spend a third of their lives waiting to live the other two thirds of their lives.

My advice is not to live your life that way.  If you see glimmers of yourself in the above statements, you now have a chance to take a third of your life back, and I suggest you follow up on that opportunity.

Some people try to achieve work/life balance by saying “I’m only going to work 8 hours in a job I don’t care about all that much, and then I’m going to go home and spend time with my family or friends”.  Assigning a predetermined amount of time to work is a poor way of approaching the situation, and it’s even worse when you consider that the balance here is between meaningful/not meaningful.  That’s not balance, it’s imbalance.

I don’t believe that you cannot properly achieve work/life balance by separating work from your personal life, and yet that is exactly the approach that many people try to take.

So let’s adopt a new term here, since balance is a bad thing to call what this really is.  Instead of calling it work/life balance, let’s call it work/life maximization.

First of all, the trade off should be between meaningful and meaningful when it comes to the time spent in significant chunks of your life.  If this isn’t the case, then you must try very hard to move towards that goal, because the payoff will be tremendous.  Alter or change your vocation to make this happen if you have to.  It’s that important.

And second, if and when you enjoy both work and your personal life, realize that the point is not to “balance” the two or impose limits on each.  The equilibrium should instead arrive naturally, such that you feel a natural pressure to relax or switch when you need to.  Your goal should be to devote the appropriate amount of time to each part of your life such that the sum total of meaningfulness or enjoyment you derive is the highest possible.

I sketched out a little diagram here to convey the idea.

For example, let’s say you spent all 112 waking hours working.  You’d be all the way over to the left, and most likely you would be rather unhappy.

On the other hand, let’s say you spent all 112 waking hours watching TV or playing video games.  You might enjoy yourself short-term, but ultimately you’d probably feel like a bum and get bored of all that stuff rather quickly to boot.

My point here is that work and personal time are clearly intertwined.  Don’t strive to balance your time…strive instead to maximize the impact of your time. Somewhere in the middle, at the very peak of that happiness curve, is the point that’s right for you.

Try this exercise if you don’t know what your vocation should be.
1. How do you envision yourself 20 years from now? What would you want people to say about you?  Are you doing anything now to move towards that vision?
2. What do you do for fun?  How do you feel when you are doing those things?  Do you feel the same way when you are at work?
3. How much time do you spend doing things that are uninspiring or unmeaningful? Can you do anything to take that time back for yourself? Get creative if you have to.

All I’ve really done here is make a case that you should enjoy your work.  If you don’t enjoy your work, find some way to make it happen via some of the above advice…a shift in such a major area can and will produce a profound impact on your quality of life.  It’s really that simple.  No doubt this would be a big change for a lot of people. But often you have to make big changes to get big results.  You have to embrace these changes if you want to enjoy the resulting rewards.

Hope this helps.

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