An Example of Productivity

My calendar from last week

At the beginning of each week, I try and set my calendar as much as I can for the entire upcoming week leaving quite a bit of room for flexibility and unforeseen events that pop up.

Much of my calendar is easy to put together, as a lot of my day to day activities are non-negotiable.

Non-negotiable Activities

Upon waking up without an alarm somewhere in the vicinity of 6 AM, I sit on a chair close to my bed and go through a morning wake-up routine.  First, I write the following affirmation down three times in a small notebook.

 I will become fluent in Norwegian, German, and Spanish, be able to play the guitar really well, and obtain a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu as well as ASA and ACAS certifications.

Some of these goals are extremely lofty, and if met, will take 12-20 years.  Others, like the ASA (Associate of the Society of Actuaries) and ACAS (Associate of the Casualty Actuary Society), I may be able to accomplish within the next 3-5 years.

I began writing this affirmation down each morning a few weeks before I even had a guitar in my possession.  Writing it down each morning, however, finally gave me the inspiration to start whatever process would eventually lead to making this affirmation true. I finally asked to borrow a friend’s guitar for a while.

After writing this affirmation, I then read a small section out of a book that has small tidbits of wisdom. Currently, I read an individual mentor’s contribution to Tim Ferriss’s book, Tribe of Mentors, followed by a verse or two out of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu.

Now that you’ve read my affirmation, my non-negotiable activities are easy to identify. I schedule many hours a week studying for the IFM exam, which I am scheduled to take in November and will help me get one step closer to both ASA and ACAS certifications. I attend Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ) class 2-3 times a week usually. Last week it was scheduled only once because of a bum shoulder. You’ll also notice guitar practice and language learning scheduled every evening.  As Duolingo will constantly remind you now, language is best learned right before bed.

Writing this blog has become important to me, as I love writing and want to continuously improve.  Recently, I purchased a book on writing (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott) that I’m looking forward to reading and applying.

Obviously, all of my job related activities (class, office hours, meetings) are also non-negotiable, along with eating a breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Negotiable Activities

If I get two classes of BJJ in during the week, that is sufficient exercise if I cannot get anything else in. However, it is ideal that I fit in 1-2 hours on each of another 3 days during the week with some type of workout. That might be weight training, biking, or running.

I love reading, so I try to schedule some leisure time in for reading each night.  Since I also “read” audio books, I get a little reading in each day simply by walking to and from work.  So, the leisure reading can definitely get rescheduled if needed.

When you look at my calendar after all these activities are accounted for, there is little room for watching TV, a movie, or playing video games.  These are all things that I have gradually, over a long period of time, weened off my schedule.

To make time to watch Solo: A Star Wars Story this week, I decided to rent it through Amazon Prime, download it on my phone, and watch it while Erin drove to Kirksville this weekend for our FLATS Trail Half Marathon.  Since she always drives, she had no complaints about this.

Keeping a calendar has really helped me reach new levels of productivity.  Even if you are not ready to give up watching TV, begin scheduling it. If you forget to schedule it, retroactively fill in your past calendar with how you spent that time. Once the week is through, have a look at how you spent your time and gauge how that makes you feel.

If you don’t feel like a rock star, than ask yourself what changes you can make so that you do.

10,000 Hours of Purposeful Practice

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, he discusses the theory of 10,000 hours.  By examining several individuals that were considered the elite in their field of expertise, he was able to find that all of them had something in common. Over the course of each of these individual’s lives, they were able to devote a lot of their time, around 10,000 hours in fact, to their craft.

It isn’t just any kind of practice. In Peak: Secrets of the New Science of Expertise, by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, they devote an entire chapter to The Power of Purposeful Practice. It is not just the 10,000 hours of practice, it is the 10,000 hours of purposeful practice that is important.

This is a LOT.

If you practice something 1 hour every day, it will take you 27.4 years to get to 10,000 hours.  That lowers to 18.3 years if practicing 1.5 hours every day, and down to 13.7 years if you practice 2 hours every day.  You need to practice about 2 hours and 45 minutes a day at something to reach 10000 hours in 10 years.

The average adult American watches television for 35.5 hours per week.  At this rate, it only takes us 5.4 years of purposeful watching to become an expert at watching television.

This is a huge reason why most conversations are dominated by talking about what is on TV or the recent movie.  We all seem to be experts.  For some, it means talking extensively about sports, and specifically, their favorite sports team.  For others, it means dissecting each episode of Game of Thrones.

If you could go back and trade just a small portion of all that TV watching for the purposeful practice of something would you? If yes, where would you be now?

Maybe you would be an expert in coding and software development.

Maybe you would be an expert small start-up investor.

Maybe you would be fluent in 2 or 3 languages.

Maybe you would be an expert piano, guitar, or drum player.

At this point in my life, I probably won’t reach 10000 hours in my language learning, guitar practice, or jiu-jitsu that I’ve recently taken on in my life.  However, there definitely won’t come a time when I wished I had traded all the hours that I will inevitably put into these new activities for some more TV or movie watching.

Paths to Work

My house is close to the corner of 15th and High in Topeka, KS.  My office is close to Boswell (5 blocks east of High) and 17th (2 blocks south).  How many paths can I take if I choose only to travel south or east (and not north or west, which would be counterproductive)?

This is a small enough problem that you could literally count up the number of paths pretty easily. In fact, why don’t you try that out and see if you get the correct answer!

Now, what if you were faced with counting up the paths for this situation?


Would you want to count up the number of the paths to work in the same way? Instead, let’s find a pattern that we can work with and understand, and then apply that to any grid of any width and length.

Let’s go back to the original 5×2 grid and analyze why there are 21 total paths.  It’s easier to start at the end and work backward. Notice that in the 5×2 grid that there are 18 different “corners” that we could potentially find ourselves.  To go from home to work, we must go east 5 times and south twice in some order.

What if we find ourselves 5 blocks east and one block south, or 4 blocks east and 2 blocks south? According to the diagram below, we only have 1 option in each of those cases.  We must travel the final south path in the first case, or the final east path in the second.


Now, if we look at the corner diagonal from work (this would be 4 blocks east and 1 block south), you’ll notice that we have an option of going south or east from here. If we choose east there is only 1 option, and if we choose south, there is only one option. Adding the two together, we get 2 paths from this corner.

Now, let’s expand out a single block.


If we find ourselves 5 blocks east, then we have only one path choice, and that is to travel south two blocks to work.  If we find ourselves 2 blocks south and 3 blocks east, again, we have only one path option, and that is to travel the two more blocks east to work.

Now, the fun part. When we look at the corner that is 4 blocks east, we have the option of traveling south or east.  South will give us 2 paths to choose from, and east will give us only 1 path to choose, for a total of 3 paths from that corner.

If we are at the corner that is 3 blocks east and 1 block south, we again have the option of traveling south to a corner that has only 1 choice and east to a corner with 2 choices for a total of 3 paths from that corner.

Finally, at the corner that is 3 blocks east, we can travel south to a corner that has 3 paths to choose from, or east to a corner with 3 paths to choose from, giving us a total of 6 paths to follow.

Let’s fill out our original map, to detect any patterns.


If you placed “Work” at the top of a triangle it might begin to look like the triangle I talked about in The Yanghui Triangle, Part I or  The Yanghui Triangle, Part II. Indeed, we can find the number of paths using combinations.

Previously, I described how to get from home to work we must pass 7 corners.  Each of the 7 corners must have a decision to go south or east, but there must be exactly 5 corners in which we choose to go east and 2 corners in which we decide to go south.

With 7 corners, how many ways can we choose 2 of them in which to go east (and therefore south on the other 5)?  The answer is \binom{7}{2} = 21=\binom{7}{5}.  This can be found using the {}_nC_r button on your calculator. First, push 7, then use the {}_nC_r button, then push 2 (or 5), and then press enter.

We now have the tools to answer the bigger 6×10 grid puzzle.  If our work is 6 blocks south and 10 blocks east, we will need to visit 16 corners on our path to work.  Of these 16 corners, we will need to decide which of the 6 we will travel south on (and, therefore, which 10 we travel east on).  This is \binom{16}{6} or {}_{16}C_{6}, which is 8008.  This would have taken a little longer if we counted the paths directly.



Questions from Tim, Part 1

There are 11 questions that Tim Ferriss poses to some of the best and brightest individuals in the world in his new book, Tribe of Mentors. Since I’m interested in hearing answers to these questions from individuals like myself (those that are not necessarily the best and brightest, but are driven toward achieving an extremely high level of happiness), I thought I would offer my answers to them!

Here are two from his list of 11.  I will return to these questions in future posts.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life? 

I haven’t gifted many books so I’ll address the second question.

Deep Work by Cal Newport helped me focus more on the most important work that needs to get done. This book also helped me identify what type of situation is best for me to do deep work in.  It helped me carve out the time I needed to study for and pass an actuary exam.

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt helped calm my aggressive and impatient mind, especially with those who do not see eye to eye with me on subjects like politics and religion. This book dives deep into the morals of individuals and how those are the forces behind many of our fervently held beliefs.

The Art of Learning by Joshua Waitzkin was read this year, and has yet to influence me on the scale that I believe it will. Both this book and Mindset by Carol Dweck have paved a path that I will most likely continue on for the remainder of my life.

The Primal Blueprint by Mark Sisson and Primal Endurance by the same author along with Brad Kearns were read in 2016 and 2017 respectively. These offer lifestyles that will stick with me to my dying day.  There is a wealth of information in these books on dieting and exercising that works.

Finally, I would also recommend reading highly recommended books from individuals on the opposite side of your spectrum. As an example, there are many recommendations to read Atlas Shrugged or The Fountainhead, both by Ayn Rand.  I was reluctant to pick either of these books up, but finally read Atlas Shrugged. While I would never recommend this book to anyone, I do think you should pick up something from the other side of the aisle from time to time.

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

This question easily stems from the first. I think there have been two new things that have happened around the same time that have significantly improved my life. They both come shortly after reading The Primal Blueprint in 2016, and then shortly after reading The Righteous Mind in 2017.

The first offered me a diet and lifestyle change that I am extremely happy with. It has been over 2 years that I’ve stuck closely with the diet (with some exceptions, of course –  you have to make it your own) and have had great results.  The diet/lifestyle is similar to a Paleo or Slow-Carb diet.

I finished the second book during my absence from Facebook.  I learned quite a bit from that absence, and talked about it in My Six Month Vacation from Facebook.  In a nutshell, I’m a much happier individual when I’m not trying to change people’s opinions in the incorrect way (via Facebook).

Bull and Son: A Story of Slowing Down and Enjoying Life

Sometime when I was a junior in high school, I was at an airport with my mom, dad, and Himar, the foreign exchange student who stayed with us that academic year. It was getting close to boarding time, and Himar and I were both almost jumping up and down with excitement.

“They’re boarding, they’re boarding! We need to get in line!” both of us exclaimed.

My father told us to come over and sit down, and that he had a story to tell us. Once we were seated, after some resistance of course, he began the story.

“One day there was a bull and his son standing on top of a hill, looking down on a valley of about a hundred grazing cows. The bull calf was so excited by this sight, that it was jumping up and down ecstatically barely containing itself. He turned to his father and shouted, ‘DAD! DAD! Let’s run down there and f*** one of those cows!’

“After a brief pause, the bull slowly turned his head toward his young son, looked him in the eye and said, ‘No son. Let’s walk down there. And f*** ’em all.'”

This story has come to mind time and time again over the 24 years since I’ve heard it. It constantly reminds me that there really isn’t anything to get all worked up about.

As the world rushes by, getting itself in a bigger and bigger damned hurry, just let it. Slow down, and enjoy life slowly and methodically, while others frantically and foolishly race themselves toward the finish.


Featured Photo of this post was found at ResearchGate and is titled “A Charollais bull and calf” (courtesy of Darren Todd, SRUC) .