Part 0 provided background.
Part 1 discussed the benefits of planning, and outlined the process.
Part 2 focused on your long-term aim: what does it means to live well, and what are the desired effects that you want to achieve?
Now the process becomes more specific.
In Part 2, you identified where you want to be, situationally. You now have to consider what lies between here and there. What obstacles do you have to overcome? What things do you have in your favour? What resources do you require? What limitations are you constrained by? And so on.
You need to consider all the relevant factors, and assess what bearing each has on achieving your aim. The simplest way to do this is to ask yourself, for each factor:
Let me demonstrate.
In responding to one of the comments left by a reader in Part 1, I said that my wife often keeps me grounded by dousing my big ideas with an ice-cold dose of reality. Example: I once had it in my head that I would own a coffeehouse. She pointed out that coffeehouse owners don’t tend to take off on weeklong hiking trips very often, and also said “you know, if you have a customer that irritates you, you can’t just tell them to get the hell out of your cafe”.
I could have avoided that discussion by thinking things through:
Fact: I prioritize my free time over my work, and want the flexibility to take time off on short notice.
So what? I need to be conscious of, and limit, my responsibilities.
So what? Limiting responsibility implies avoiding work that requires my persistent presence.
Deduction: Any course of action I consider must focus on project work, or on work that can be done remotely.
Fact: my temperament has been described as mercurial, and my manner blunt and/or acerbic.
So what? I need to either avoid situations that depend highly on relationships, or deal only with people who can take it.
So what? Customer interface, teamwork, and supervisory roles are not for me.
Deduction: I won’t consider any course of action involving customers, subordinates, or collaborative environments.
See? Had I done my homework, there’s no way I would have considered a coffeehouse.
Now let’s pretend I’m the guy who said, in Part 2, that I’d live well by becoming an organic farmer. As you recall, I temporarily parked the idea of the farm, and determined that what I’m really after is a situation characterized by simplicity, financial independence, and good health.
Here’s a notional conversation I might have with myself, in which I examine some of the relevant factors:
Fact: I seek financial independence, which I define this as not having to rely on others for money.
Analysis: This can be achieved in two ways: self-employment, or the accumulation of wealth such that I don’t have to work anymore. Realistically, my current income won’t permit wealth accumulation soon enough: I’ll literally die trying.
So what? All roads lead to self-employment.
Deduction: I need to research business ideas (one of which will be farming) ASAP. In the meantime I need to keep working my day job.
Analysis: Financial independence will be achieved more quickly if I increase my savings rate. There are two principal ways to do this: maintain my current lifestyle, but work harder; or change my current lifestyle.
So what? There’s no way in hell I’m going to work harder. I need to change my lifestyle in order to reduce costs.
Deduction: one of my immediate tasks is to assess what I’m spending my money on, and slash discretionary spending.
Fact: I currently work 40 hours per week, have a full slate of social engagements, and try to squeeze in several leisure pursuits.
Analysis: This is unsustainable, particularly for someone who seeks simplicity. I have little time for focused leisure, or for researching my future business.
So what? I need to load-shed, and create more time for myself.
So what? I need to determine what’s essential, and stop doing everything else.
Deduction: Effective immediately, I will cut ties with people who don’t add value; I will engage in only those hobbies I truly enjoy (hiking and cycling); I will conduct a scorched earth minimalism campaign among my belongings.
You get the idea. As you go through all the factors relevant to your situation, you’ll arrive at specific deductions, or endpoints in your logic. A clearer picture will emerge as these deductions drive and shape your planning effort. You’ll identify realistic courses of action, and eliminate those that aren’t viable. You’ll shed light on required resources, as well as limitations and constraints. And you’ll have a better understanding of your priorities.
Which factors should you consider? The ones that you deem important, and the ones that are central to the problem. The sky’s the limit, but there’s value in keeping it simple.
In Part 4, we’ll assume that we’ve analyzed all of the relevant factors and identified several viable courses of action (COAs). We’ll look at ways to compare COAs and select the COA on which you’ll base your plan.
See you next week.
Part 0 provided background.
Part 1 discussed the benefits of planning, and outlined the process:
1. Identify your aim.
2. Analyze relevant factors.
3. Consider the courses of action available to you.
4. Select the most appropriate course of action and develop your plan.
Now it’s time to roll up our sleeves and tackle Step 1: what are we trying to achieve through all this planning?
This is trickier than you might think. On the surface, we all know that the aim is to live well. But we need to look under the hood and see what living well is actually comprised of. Not just what, but also why.
The importance of this exercise can’t be overstated: a clear aim gives us a sense of purpose that informs and guides the remainder of our planning effort, as well as our subsequent execution of said plan.
Our aim is the “where am I going? (and why)” portion of “where am I? where am I going? how do I get there?”
In preparing to write Plan Your Escape, I asked friends and family what they want out of life. I got two types of response. The overly vague: “I want to be happy”. And the overly precise: “I want to be an organic farmer”, or “I want to own a coffeehouse”, or “I want to live in a beautiful house overlooking the ocean and never work again”.
Both types of answer demand clarification.
To the person who says they want to be happy, I ask “What is happy comprised of?”
To the person who says they want a farm, or a nice house and no work, I ask “Why? How did you arrive at that conclusion?”
Somewhere in between platitudes about happiness and defined outcomes involving farms and houses, lies the essence of the good life: the intangible, descriptive effects that we want to achieve, which we believe will make us happy.
Take, for instance, that person who says they want to own a farm. Do they really? Or do they want a life characterized by attributes that they think farming will provide? Because owning a farm is not an end unto itself. It’s not a what, it’s a how. It’s one possible means among many to achieving a set of underlying effects. Perhaps our would-be farmer envisions a life of independence, good physical health, and contact with nature. Perhaps they assume that farming will be a simple, care-free existence. Perhaps they think organic farming will make their community better.
So instead of saying:
I want to be an organic farmer.
They might say:
My intent is to live well by achieving four desired effects: simplicity, economic independence, community involvement, and good health.
Upon further review and analysis, they may decide that the best course of action is to be an organic farmer. On the other hand, they may decide to embrace minimalism, rent a small apartment in a city with lots of green space, and become an advocate for dedicated cycling lanes on their streets. Both courses of action will achieve the aim.
Establish Your Intent
How do you identify the effects you want to achieve? By asking yourself questions. Start with the one I asked at the end of Part 1:
What do you think it means to live well?
Actually, let’s rephrase that:
What will it mean to have lived well?
Because that’s really the one that counts, right? I find it useful, because it puts the day-to-day stuff into perspective.
If you’re a visual person, you might use a mind map…start with “the good life” in the centre and work outward from there.
Or, you could project yourself forward into an imagined future where you’re living well. What does that look like? What elements are present? What elements are absent? Why?
The key is to get beyond–or rather beneath–the material, status-based, or situational outcomes that you have in mind. A healthy dose of skepticism comes in handy, and you might just conclude that you’ve led yourself astray. The first time my wife and I really did this, we sold our house. Why? Because a house in the suburbs simply didn’t jibe with the attributes that we saw in our desired future: financial flexibility, maximum leisure, minimum stress.
You may see an entirely different future for yourself. You might throw everything into the hopper and determine that your long-term aim is characterized by strong relationships and economic stability.
The point is that you deconstruct your image of the good life and reduce it to its essence, as opposed to manifestations of that essence. Focus on the effects you want to achieve:
My aim is to live well by achieving a situation characterized by the following desirable effects…
I’ll leave you to it. Next week, armed with your thoroughly considered aim, you’ll start to refine the problem by examining all relevant factors and analyzing their impact.
See you next week.
Here’s something to make you laugh as you nestle into another workweek. One Mr. Ronald Dillon, a longtime employee of the NYC Health Department, has been suspended for answering customer service calls like a robot…he was channeling his inner Siri, according to the article.
The story is funny to begin with, but it’s even better when you consider that Ronald is in his sixties.
I guess he’d simply had enough.
In Part 0 to this series, I said we’d be exploring a simple, logical planning framework.
The method I’ll describe here is loosely based on The Combat Estimate, which I learned about during my military service. The Estimate is comprised of four steps:
In the military context, this method is useful for solving all sorts of problems: applying a limited budget, organizing a training event, engaging one’s enemy.
Here at New Escapologist, however, we’re interested in a project that’s so much more appealing than mortal combat: life, and how to live it well.
1) Aim. What does it mean (for you) to live well? Are you sure about that?
2) Factors. What aspects about your own character and your situation do you need to consider, and how do they inform and shape your solution?
3) Courses. What avenues are realistically available to you?
4) Plan. Among the options available, which path grants you the greatest probability of achieving the good life?
In truth, there’s nothing really remarkable about this method, and it’s not strictly a military tool. You’ve likely seen elements of the process in your workplace, because operational planning is at the heart of all organizations: where are we? where do we want to go? how do we get there?
And if you think about it, we inherently go through this line of questioning at the individual level, in a continuous, subconscious decision-making loop: where am I? where would I rather be? what’s the best way?
So. Why Bother?
Right now you’re probably feeling a little ripped-off.
If there’s nothing remarkable about the process, and we already do it, what’s the point of this blog series?
Because most of us don’t do it very well. We don’t do it deliberately, or holistically, or consistently. At best, our lives are a process of trial and error–we’re like paramecia, bumping into the same obstacles over and over, hoping for different results each time. Through equal parts luck and pain, we finally figure things out after X iterations…by which point we’re in our 40s. That’s the most likely scenario. The worst case scenario is that we make a complete hash of things, but don’t realize it until it’s too late.
Wouldn’t it be better to strive for the best case scenario? To cut the crap, avoid the hassle, identify early on what it means to live well, and make a beeline for it? That’s really what this is all about: efficiency, economy of effort, focused action.
Because personally, I’d rather come up with something like this:
My mission is to live well through self-sufficiency and community involvement, which I’ve determined to be the true drivers of my happiness.
After considering all the relevant factors, I’ve concluded that I need to break this mission down into three phases. Phase 1: I’ll optimize my finances by maintaining my current job, by embracing scorched-earth minimalism, and by focusing only on core leisure activities. Phase 2: I’ll quit my job, I’ll move to a place conducive to my long-term goal of self-sufficiency, and I’ll find interim work that pays the bills. No later than July 1, 2017 I’ll purchase a small parcel of land. Phase 3: I’ll develop an organic farm and I’ll turn my attention to being a productive member of my local community. Common to all phases is the maintenance of my fitness and my close relationships, because without those things, I am nothing.
My main effort–what I’ll focus on when I have to prioritize–is the accumulation of savings for the purpose of buying land.
My desired end state–the performance metric by which I’ll judge my success–is to produce 50% of my family’s food consumption on my farm, and to be a positive force within my circle of influence.
My immediate tasks for Phase 1 are: [insert list]
Especially if every single phrase in that statement was the result of careful contemplation and analysis.
By contrast, I’d like to avoid saying something like this:
You know, I always wanted a farm. I guess it was just a silly dream, and in any case, life got in the way. Marriage, house, dog, kids…then I got a promotion and a transfer at work, and my responsibilities piled up. Life just happened, and before I knew it…blah blah BLAH!
Life doesn’t just happen. We make it happen. For the record, I don’t want to be an organic farmer, because I’m very lazy (my laziness is a key factor that I must consider when formulating plans)…it was just an example. But regardless of what your personal version of the good life is, a statement like the one in the example is what you want to aim for by the end of this series. We’ll work on that together.
Of course, the skeptics will say that planning is futile. That plans are almost always overcome by events. “No plan survives first contact with the enemy”, someone once said. To which I’m tempted to respond, “Okay, don’t plan…go shopping instead…best of luck with your tiresome, cookie-cutter, unplanned, unfulfilling life of sheer bullshit.”
Thankfully, I’m above that sort of response.
Instead, I’ll argue that planning has benefits beyond your basic probability of success. Even if things don’t go exactly according to plan, you’ll have gained crucial insight. You’ll have a much greater appreciation of yourself, your situation, and the underlying factors that constrain or enable your success. This understanding will grant you strength and flexibility in the face of adversity. Your plan will be a stable, thoroughly-reasoned starting point from which you can make informed adaptations.
A Word Of Caution
I’m going to show you a process, but nobody can do the work for you. Because it’s your life, and it’s a personal voyage. The more you’re willing to put aspects of your situation (your character, your relationships, your work, where you live, your preconceived notions of success, etc) into play, onto the table, and up for debate, the more you’ll get out of it.
Ideally, this series will make you think, engage your imagination, and ask yourself some awkward questions. The good news is that it will be both fun and rewarding. Most of the hard bits can be accomplished while lying on the floor staring up at the ceiling, and by doodling on blank sheets of paper.
In Part 2: Good Intentions, we’re going to discuss the importance of establishing a long-term, overarching intent. To prepare you for that, I have a question:
What do you think it means to live well?
See you next week.
As always, we invite your comments and participation.
I’ve been helping out at New Escapologist for a few months now, so I think it’s time I introduced myself more formally.
My name is Lentus Ambulandus, I live on the west coast of Canada, and I’m leisure-centric. It’s been a year since I last worked. Unless, of course, you count the four days I spent picking grapes at a winery, for which I’ll be paid in Gewürztraminer next spring.
To celebrate my one year anniversary in the post-work era, I’m writing Plan Your Escape, a series that will describe a logical process for examining your life (or any other problem, for that matter).
But first, I’d like to explain how I got here.
I used to fly helicopters, first in Canada’s military and then briefly as a commercial pilot. When I resigned from my job a year ago, I didn’t think of it as the end of my flying career. I simply wanted out of a crappy situation and needed some time off.
Then, a few months ago, I applied for work at a few companies and received an offer very similar to my last job. I declined, and I consider that to be the moment when I officially crossed into the post-work realm.
Why did I decline? First off, the last twelve months have been the best year of my life, bar none. I reconnected with family, improved my health, and spent time on activities that I truly enjoy. I don’t want that to change.
Perhaps more importantly, going back to flying would constitute a betrayal, of sorts. The money was decent, but I’m not particularly money-driven. More to the point, I don’t want to be money-driven. Further, the nature of the work had become unappealing. The type of flying I did was mundane, and required that I be away from home well over half the year. I knew, deep down, that if I accepted the offer, it would be because I lacked the courage to try something else, and was taking the easy way out.
[See also whore (verb) – to debase oneself by doing something for unworthy motives, typically to make money.]
And so here I am. Post-work. My current job description goes something like this:
I get up at seven. Or eight. Certainly no later than nine. I make coffee and breakfast for my wife, shop for groceries, and do laundry. It’s the least I can do, really. Otherwise, I read books, I hike, I cycle, and I think about things. If I’m feeling ambitious, I shower and walk to the centre, where I engage in good old fashioned flânerie.
Clearly, I can’t go on like this forever. Or can I? My job description mentions that I think about things, and indeed, I’ve spent a good portion of the last year doing just that. Mainly, I’ve contemplated how I want to spend the rest of my life, what constitutes a good life, and most importantly, how I can best achieve it. In the process, I’ve asked myself some interesting questions: how much is enough? what do I truly value? what does it mean to be productive? and, does any of this even matter?
In a way, my wife and I have been implicitly contemplating a better life for years, resulting in The Sale Of All Things in 2013, her shift from employment to contract work, and our recent move to the coast. All well and good, but I always felt that our approach was piecemeal. Our overall, long-term intent lurked somewhere just below the surface, but we never explored it in detail, acknowledged it, and adopted it as the basis of decision-making. And our method wasn’t methodical, resulting in unsynchronized and inefficient actions.
What we lacked was a deliberate process, a framework for examining the problem holistically. My post-work status has finally given me the opportunity to do this. Now that I’ve gone through the process, I’d like to share it with you.
The technique I’m using is simple, logical, and effective. Think of it as another tool in your toolkit. If nothing else, it’ll be food for thought. I’ll post an instalment of Plan Your Escape each Wednesday for the next five weeks, as follows:
Part 1: Why Bother? A closer examination of the benefits of planning.
Part 2: Good Intentions. The first step is to identify your overarching intent.
Part 3: So What? How to assess the relevant factors.
Part 4: Which Way To The Good Life? How to compare several possible courses of action and select the one that’s best for you.
Part 5: Putting It All Together. Articulating your plan, and establishing performance metrics to keep you on track.
See you next week.
We moved this summer to a place where we can cycle year round. This was previously the stuff of fantasy due to -30C winters, so when we arrived here we were sorely lacking winter cycling accoutrements: high-visibility rain gear, headlamp and tail light, splash guards.
Cue another round of gear-buying…
Having had my come-to-Jesus (pronounced Hay-zeus) moment with consumerism, I now become irritated at the mere prospect of buying gear, and feel an acute nausea with each new item I purchase.
It wasn’t always that way. Gearing up used to be exciting. It was a sport unto itself, and we were just like the couple pictured above in the hilarious Portlandia episode. For any new activity, we’d go to the outdoor store and spend our hard-earned money on so-called must-have items, which we’d use for a while before moving on to the next great activity. The end result: lightly used climbing harnesses, six bicycles, four backpacks, three tents, light hiking boots, heavy hiking boots, winter hiking boots, downhill skis, cross-country skis, a snowboard. It’s a minor miracle we didn’t own three or four kayaks, some expensive fly-fishing equipment, and a small twin-engine airplane equipped with floats…you know, just in case.
Perhaps, like me, you see a little too much of yourself in the characters of the skit. We need to guard against that.
Let’s replace “Get the gear!” with “Do the math!”
From today’s paper:
Citing a “poisonous combination” of slow economic growth and low inflation, the study released today [by the International Center for Monetary and Banking Studies and the Centre for Economic Policy Research] also warns that “deleveraging and slower nominal growth are in many cases interacting in a vicious loop” that puts the world at risk.
No, actually, I don’t think the world is at risk. If history is our guide, the world will continue to merrily spin about its axis and revolve around the smiley face sun.
The rhythm of the life we have today causes us to lose sight of what is fundamental in life. … To be alive is a miracle and nothing is more important than life itself. And you can’t buy it. You can only spend it. It goes. So how I spend this miracle of a life I have is the most important question for every person.
President Jose Mujica of Uruguay, discussing his life and upcoming retirement.
Known for his liberal social policies as well as his embracement of a minimalist, self-sufficient lifestyle, Mujica has a clear view of what it means to live well:
“If I want to have a lot of things, I have to spend so much of life getting them and then so much time taking care of them and lots of time overseeing them – then I’m not free. I’m free in that part of my life when I do truly what motivates me.”
A few weeks ago, my wife and I attended a fancy brunch to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday. Between mimosas, the feted one was asked how she felt about being in her dreaded 40s.
“Fantastic, actually…I’ve decided to treat this as my decade of self-improvement”.
Although she didn’t specify what she intended to improve, I thought it was a great answer. And it made me think…about goals, plans, priorities, and how we measure success. More than anything, I thought about how we engage in a lot of goal-setting and planning in our work-related lives. By contrast, we seldom look inward and apply a rational planning process to our personal, “global” lives, of which work is merely a component part. We think in terms of career trajectories, but allow our overall existence to meander along a random goat path.
Odd, don’t you think? Considering this is our only life, I think we have it completely backwards. We should identify a set of overarching, core priorities, and then work outward from there. Work would probably be relegated to nothing more than a subordinate, enabling sub-plan.
In a past life, I had a job that involved all sorts of planning, and along the way I was exposed to some really useful tools. I’ll share some of this in subsequent posts. But before we get into it, there’s a fundamental consideration at the heart of it all:
What does it mean to live well?
The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it. (Thoreau)
Here’s a little reading that will either get your blood boiling, or cause you to smile smugly, depending on which side of the work-life fulcrum you currently sit.
Doug Saunders of The Globe and Mail says that the demarcation line between work and life is disappearing, and along with it, your smile.
Meanwhile, the BBC just puts a fork in the whole notion of work-life-balance and calls it “done”. It’s all just life, the article claims. This isn’t portrayed as a bad thing, necessarily. I find that depressing.
We could debate ad infinitum the slippery slope of technology and the expectation that we be constantly tethered. Personally, I harbour this silly idea that it’s still up to us, and that the good employers understand and support peoples’ need to maintain a private life.
Then again, I also fantasize that I’ll find myself in a situation where I can pull a Peter Gibbons (Office Space):
Bob: You know, Drew, you’ve been missing a lot of important calls and emails after hours.
Drew: Actually, I wouldn’t say I’ve been *missing* them, Bob.