Operating Rules Vol.2

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My first volume of “operating rules”, written about 18 months ago, included the following:

  1. Get the unpleasant thing out of the way sooner than later
  2. Very few things are worth getting worked up over
  3. There’s no need to have the last word
  4. There’s no rush, stick to a pace that works for me
  5. Just listen, no need to provide advice
  6. Play offense, not defense
  7. Things I will never regret: time spent writing, time spent with family and friends, time spent on exercise, and time spent on sleep
  8. Fight hard to keep my calendar as open as possible

Following these as best as I can has served me well, and I’m glad I took the time to write them.

I thought I’d add a few more rules to the mix with another volume.

Don’t be afraid to overspend on things that improve quality of life

A year ago, we moved in to a new apartment. At the time, it felt a bit pricier than what we had initially budgeted. However, it seemed to check off all the boxes: it had an elevator, a spacious private outdoor area, private parking, located in a quiet neighborhood, and a brand new construction, which meant central air and modern fixtures. We went for it and it’s been a real blessing. The outdoor area has been clutch as a play area for our son during the pandemic and also doubling as a gym for me. The quiet location means better sleep at night (no more loud garbage trucks roaring by) as well as proximity to Green-Wood Cemetery, where our family has gone for long, pleasant walks.

Could we have gotten a better deal elsewhere? Could we have been more aggressive in bringing down the price with the seller? Perhaps, but in hindsight, I feel great about having stretched our budget range to make it possible to live in a comfortable home.

I’ve pondered this same thought process for a number of other things in life that are worth overspending for. A home is tops on the list because it’s where you sleep, play, and for many of us now, mostly work. Here are some other things, many related to the home, that come to mind when it comes to overspending for quality:

  • Mattress: It’s been a while since I bought a mattress (we love the one we’ve had for 10+ years now) but if we were to replace the mattress, I would spare no expense knowing that this is where I spend 50+ hours per week.
  • Internet: Our Internet has been awful in this area and it’s only underscored the need to have backups in place (I currently have a Sprint MiFi hotspot for when our Internet goes down). The moment an alternative to the only Internet provider for our building becomes available, I’m hoping to switch over right away.
  • Kitchen appliances/tools: I’m thinking particularly of things that get heavy usage like a toaster oven or blender. You can always opt for a cheap option that get the job done, but there’s something to be said about having peace of mind that the machine will work reliably well for a long time and come with features that produce a better result for your food. Related to this category would be knives, pans, and pots because they can make a big difference in making cooking more or less pleasurable.
  • Car: I used to think of cars as mere objects to get us from point A to point B, but having a child has altered my thinking. With our recent car upgrade (we leased an SUV), we factored in things like cabinet/trunk space as well as various safety features and overall size. We also opted for a more robust engine that’s given us a greater sense of security when driving on highways.

Everyone will have his or her own convictions on what constitutes meaningful purchases that impact quality of life. Does a particular coffee purchase make the cut? Does the model of smartphone get there? Or how about the purchase of things like books and entertainment? It’s easy to overspend on so many things but the point of this rule is that it’s also easy to underspend because we may find ourselves drawn to a bargain deal or talk ourselves into thinking that “good enough is good enough”.

The lesson here is: for any potential purchase, take a minute to think about its impact on quality of life, and if it has the opportunity to make an outsize difference (typically based on usage rate and its place in your everyday life), then be willing to spend more to get the most in quality.

The other thing to remember is that humans are very adaptable creatures. We often adapt so quickly to our existing circumstances that it’s hard to tell what will truly impact our quality of life until we change something and even then, it’ll be a matter of days before we adapt and take things for granted.

Take long walks

It should not be surprising that walking is the healthiest form of physical activity, given this is the movement we are best adapted to perform. Like any other animal, our primary physical function is locomotion, and walking is the most energetically efficient way to get the job done. If you did nothing else but walk a lot, you’d be in better shape than most Americans. – Playing with Movement by Todd Hargrove

Ever since I started working from home in March, I’ve made it a habit to go on a long morning walk with our son and dog. What started as a 10-15 minute stroll around the block has evolved into a 40-minute odyssey around the neighborhood with a pit stop at a coffee shop. I love our morning walks because it’s a great way to wake the body up and also lets me listen to audio books or podcasts.

Our bodies were made to walk and I’ve taken this fact to heart. I’ve been trying to find ways to consistently raise the number of steps I take per day. My family goes on an evening walk on most nights after our son’s dinner and if I’m not going for a jog, I’ll take the dog out one more time before bed. Over time, it’s felt akin to taking a vitamin or getting a good night’s sleep–I feel like walking helps my body counteract the hours of sitting during the day. It also allows me to do some thinking. If I’m not listening to a book or podcast, I’ll usually spend time thinking about a problem or dreaming up some new idea.

I’m not a big nature person and rarely make the trip to go on trail hikes. However, I think I’ve gotten similar benefits by taking long walks around my neighborhood day in and day out.

Treat content consumption like food intake

I’ve become a more frequent Twitter user over the past couple of years. I’ve gained a lot of knowledge from Twitter and even made some friends, but I’ve also wasted a ton of time and there are moments when my usage has felt more like an addiction than a benefit.

An operating rule I find myself thinking about a lot is to treat content consumption much like the food I eat–it’s okay to indulge in the crappy stuff every once in a while but do it too often and I’ll end up feeling terrible and long-term, it’ll make me sick and weak.

The way to counterbalance this is to surround myself with good, healthy content. For me, this has typically been about having a wealth of great book options available at all times in all formats–physical book, Kindle, and Audible. Much like having a kitchen stocked with fresh produce and quality ingredients, I know that being mindful of having my next 5 to 10 books picked out and started will give me the extra motivation to forgo Twitter or YouTube and instead read a couple more pages of a book.

“You don’t have to, you get to”

I’ve heard this phrase come up in a number of random places, usually in a self-help or fitness context, and I think it’s a really good statement to repeat every now and then. I can recall the moment when this phrase came in really handy for me. It was during one of our son’s sleep regressions when he would wake up crying at 3AM and wouldn’t go back to sleep unless someone was in the room with him. I remember at first being frustrated, annoyed, and dead tired, dreading the discomfort of laying down on the floor next to him while he tried to go back to sleep.

But then I remembered this phrase and repeated it to myself. Rather than feeling sorry for myself for losing some sleep, I could enjoy extra time with my son, watching him calm down and fall back asleep. I found myself thinking about how quickly he would be growing up and how one day, I’d probably give anything to be back in the spot right next to his crib, watching him close his eyes while clutching his little monkey.

Anytime there’s a challenge, a hardship, or something of a chore to do, this phrase has the power to flip it and make it an opportunity.

How you read (and re-read) is more important than how much you read

I admit that I love my vanity wall listing all the books I’ve read over the years. It looks cool and people are impressed when I tell them I find the time to read several books a month. However, this means very little when it comes to getting actual value out of the book.

It’s hard to retain the lessons of a good book without putting in the work to first highlight certain passages and then to try articulating the lessons in my own words. I’ve used tools like Readwise to help resurface highlights from Kindle for me to revisit and reflect on which has been a really helpful way to retain knowledge. Also, I find that writing or Tweeting about the books or quoting certain parts of the book in my writing are all ways to ensure that I’m getting full value.

One thing that I’ve found helpful over time in making notes to my highlights has been the act of connecting different texts with each other, being able to spot patterns of ideas and spotting instances where concepts complement each other. This makes for a much richer reading experience and also provides new synthesized ideas for me to use at work or in my writing.

Treat feedback like information

I spent most of my adult life to date fearing, hating, and avoiding feedback. It’s probably why I chose to be my own boss in the first place, and when I realized that didn’t quite stem the feedback, I created a culture of fear to suppress any feedback.

I’ve managed to evolve somewhat over the years. Feedback is still tough to receive, but one approach that’s helped is to view feedback as a piece of information, a signal, that requires investigation, reflection, and engagement.

This means being open to receiving feedback but also not taking it in wholly at face value and receiving it as a judgment of my personal character. The moment I let myself feel like the feedback is an attack on my identity and character, I know the defenses will go right up and there is no chance of a productive conversation, just raging emotions and ad hominem attacks ready to go.

However, if feedback can be handled as information, the acerbic language coating the feedback message can be peeled away, leaving me with numerous options on ways to productively handle the situation. In most situations, it’s about clearing up miscommunication. And in certain cases, there really is a strong signal that I ought to alter my behavior in order to achieve a better outcome, in which case I should be grateful for the feedback and act accordingly.

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