I had hit rock bottom. I was mentally exhausted. I felt like crap even though I led a healthy lifestyle. What was wrong?
I wasn’t focused.
I was distracted.
I lacked purpose and discipline of where my attention should go.
I first wrote about non-negotiables in 2015. That year I even posted my non-negotiable list on the glass door of my shower. I saw it every day. I found the responses to the post to be quite polarizing. Some readers loved the idea of structure and rigid constraints. While others, reacted quite the opposite. For them, the idea of tight rules, without flexibility, hit a deep wound.
Then this year, in 2017 I wrote about creating filters in order to work less and have more free time. I’ve made it an annual process to set non-negotiables.
I personally don’t do well with rules put on me by others, however, when I put the constraints on myself and make them public, it works out well. I’m happier and more productive. I’m left only to battle my own ego.
• My phone is no longer my alarm clock and thus is not welcome in my bedroom. I’ve purchased a small traditional bedside alarm clock that does two things. It tells the time and it wakes me up when I tell it to. Removing my phone from my bedroom removes the distraction of, well, everything.
• Up at 6am for one hour of “me time”, non-neogotiable. Going forward I’m very focused on never being rushed again, it’s a feeling I want to eliminate from my psyche. Once everyone else is up in my house I’m suddenly on call. Therefore, I wake up at 6 a.m. and go through my morning routine in peace, with no rush.
• No weekday drinking. I’m up at 6am on weekdays and I know I don’t sleep as well if I have even one drink since I’m not 25 anymore. I need to be operating at 100% everyday so I’m simply removing alcohol from my weekdays.
• My six, three hour, flow time, single project time slots are firm. I have scheduled three hour blocks for all of 2017 that are intended to be used for working on a single project. Work on one thing, undistracted for three hours. If someone asks me for an appointment during one of these times, the answer is no, there are many others time slots in the week and I use Calendly to make it easy for them to find an alternative. Lots has been written on the incredible power of flow, taking one subject or one project and working on it for a prolonged period of time without any interruption. I’m going to harness that in 2018. Want to know more about the theory of flow, listen to this Ted Talk.
• Thinking day once a month, scheduled throughout the the year. Like other items on this list, it’s scheduled in ink, it’s not moving for anything except a family emergency. This is one of the harder things on my list because there’s nothing really to do. It’s not easy to just spend a day doing nothing but thinking. I may make notes, but in a book, not my computer. I’ll walk a lot on these days, possibly go to an art gallery and find a comfortable seat and just observe. We minimize the value of time spent thinking because we worry we aren’t accomplishing anything. But just because everyone else is running around overstimulated and tied to their inbox doesn’t mean you and I need to be. If you want to read more on this topic, my friend Brian Scudamore wrote an article for Inc. on the topic.
• Monthly Board Meeting with Winslowe. Jim Sheils developed the family board meeting and now that Winslowe is turning seven it’s time to implement the board meeting consistently and in it’s entirety. The basic idea of Jim’s family board meeting is spending three hours with your kid, 1:1 (no grouping kids together), doing an activity of their choice, technology free (leave the phone at home), and then discussing the result of the activity. The fact is, very few of us spend quality time with our kids. Yes, we spend time with them, but uninterrupted and technology free? Rarely.
• Identify and schedule next week’s six projects every Friday. I will assign what projects I’m going to work on to each of the six three hour time slots allotted to flow time.
In their book, A Beautiful Constraint, Mark Barden and Adam Morgan do a fantastic job of laying out how having tight constraints don’t limit you, but in fact create an environment for creativity to flourish. Everyday we are hit with constraints and we have the choice of responding to them as a victim, a neutralizer, or a proactive transformer. By making a constraint beautiful we see it as an opportunity, not a restriction. The constraint becomes a stimulus to see a better way of achieving something or solving a big problem. So why not deliberately put a few in place? That’s what I’m doing with my non-negotiables.
My non-negotiable list isn’t about making my life so rigid I can’t be flexible. On the contrary, it’s about giving my brain less to think about. Having these non-negotiables allows me to be more focused, resulting in an incredible amount of flexibility and creativity.