The Project Management of Self-Improvement

I’ve gotten a few questions on the topic of planning and time management in the last few months, so I thought I’d do a write up. To me this is a very individual issue and your time management tools have to conform as much as possible to your preferred manner of working. Everyone has an approach that will work better for them, some respond very well to highly regimented lives, some do not. Some people have the ability to control their lives to a high degree and can thus implement high levels of detailed scheduling, others need flexibility in order to effectively execute.

I’ve seen a lot of discussion of goals as opposed to systems, however these are complimentary not in opposition to feedbackeach other. The reason for creating a system is to avoid some of the downsides related to goals, outlined by among others Scott Adams. For instance, instead of setting the goal to “lose weight“, build a system of activities that support that goal. Goals do have the downside that while trying to achieve them, a person is prone to feeling like a failure, or building their life around the goal. When the goal is achieved, short-lived elation is quickly replaced by the emptiness left behind by the now achieved goal. On the other hand, systems can have downsides as well, in that if they do not contain milestones, checkpoints, and measurable criteria, most people will destroy their progress through skirting the permissible.

One of the funnier examples I’ve seen recently among weight-lifters and bodybuilders is the concept of “It fits my macros” when it comes to their diet, in that they defend eating highly processed, low quality foods based on that it fits their target macro-nutrient ratios. While this is technically true, I would make the argument that eating the same macros in real food as opposed to ice cream and candy, would be overall better for them. Having a planned cheat-day every 4 – 10 days, may become having a cheat-day every 4 days. Getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep every night becomes getting 7 hours, which then becomes six until they are back at the same (or worse) state they were in.

From my perspective, this becomes a case of complimentary activities that include goals and systems to achieve those goals. Obsession comes from treating goals as ends in themselves, rather a means to an end. If a person seeks to improve their health, diet should be a part of this, and weight loss goals, are a natural progression measurement. Systems are really habits that you develop in order to make improvements. This is in part why goals can be destructive as they focus on the target of effort, rather than the effort itself. Every goal you create for yourself has to be a means towards a distant and probably non-achievable end. Any system must have input, process, output and feedback. A system without some form of measuring is no system at all, because there is no way to measure intended output vs desired output. There is no way to measure the efficiency and efficacy of the process. Thus there is no feedback to be integrated into the system. Continue reading