Tag Archive | Optimization

Life as System

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

How can I optimize my life?

“Think of your life as a symphony of systems.

I call the systems that make up your life, life-systems.

Life optimization is systems optimization.

Gain clarity on what the highest-leverage life-systems are, and optimize them one by one.

Should I focus on one at a time?

You can have one as the primary focus and several as secondary foci.

And you can focus on optimizing one thing at a time within every life-system.

What is the most important life-system?

Your beautiful BodyMind because it creates your reality.

What are the most important life-systems?

For me, they are four:

BodyMind System

– Thinking / Awareness System
– Self-Care System

Meaning System

– Beliefs System
– Identity System
– Values System

FUNdamentals System

– Sleep
– Nutrition
– Movement

– Self-Awareness
– Breathing
– Meditation
– Celebration

The Big Three

– Energy System
– Work System
– Relationships System

Masterpiece Days 3

Make each day your masterpiece. (John Wooden)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“Live your masterpiece day every day of your life.“


“Make it depend only on things within your control. And make it antifragile.

In terms of structure, you have most control over the beginning and end of the day – the AM and PM bookends, as someone called them. Treat the bookends as sacred time and endlessly optimize them. Make the bookends the first and last win of the day regardless of how the rest of the day went.

In terms of content, gain clarity on the things that are most meaningful to you, those things that make you feel most radiantly alive. 

What are those things so meaningful that you see yourself doing them every day for the rest of your life? 

Those are your daily life-quests. Treat them as sacred and make it a habit to do them every single day regardless of circumstances.

Two Fundamental Principles of Learning

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

What are the two principles?

I call them Beautiful Mindset and Beautiful State.

Beautiful Mindset

Beautiful Mindset is about how you think. Learning is profoundly influenced by your mindset.

I’m thinking of two mindsets in particular:

Growth Mindset (Carol Dweck) 

Has to do with belief:
– the belief that you can learn 
– the belief that, with persistence and consistency, you can learn anything you set your mind to

Learning Mindset 

Has to do with how you approach learning.  The optimal way to approach learning is playfully, by connecting with your inner child. We might call it the Playful Mindset.

Beautiful State

Beautiful State is about how you feel. Learning is profoundly influenced by your mental/emotional state. 

A beautiful state is one in which you’re relaxed and experiencing one or more of the (what I call) transcendental feelings: Joy, Curiosity, Wonder, Love, Gratitude, Playfulness, having Fun.

When you’re in a beautiful state, you’re most open-minded and receptive to learning. 

To optimize learning, you need to optimize both your mindset and your state.

Reminds me of Piotr Wozniak’s Fundamental Law of Learning:

Good learning is fundamentally pleasurable. Without pleasure, there is no good learning.

You can think of pleasure as feedback. It’s the sign that you’re doing it right.

Learning Optimization 2

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I optimize Learning?”

Gain optimal feedback on the quality of your learning immediate feedback after every learning session and daily feedback at the end of every day.

How effective was your learning? (Strategy)

Did you learn the highest-leverage things you could be learning? (Leverage)

Did you learn them in optimal order (so that they optimally build upon one another)? (Sequencing)

How efficient was your learning? (Tactics)

Did you challenge yourself?

How active was your information absorption process? (Understanding Efficiency)
Did you process – that is, deeply reflect on – the information immediately, or just lazily saved it for later?

Did you practice deliberately? (Practice Efficiency)
Did you actually have deliberate practice time?

Always keep in mind the central tenet of Essentialism:

Less, but better. (Greg McKeown)

The Deliberate-Practice System

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

How can I optimize deliberate practice?

There are two aspects to deliberate practice:

Skill-Specific Practice
The Deliberate-Practice System

The former varies with every skill; the latter stays the same regardless of skill.

Gain clarity on and endlessly optimize the deliberate-practice system.” 

What are the components of the deliberate practice system?

I’ve identified the following:

Deconstructing Skills

Every skills is a bundle of sub-skills. To deliberately and efficiently practice a skill, you need to identify its highest-leverage sub-skills – the fundamentals. Practice the fundamentals until they become second nature.

Identifying Principles

Principles are essentially mental models. They are meaningful, abstract patterns that are transferable across disciplines.

The Practice Loop (Scott H. Young)

Repeatedly performing a skill with the intention of improving it. Deliberate practice is a feedback loop. The purpose of the loop is two-fold:

– identifying and fixing weaknesses
– identifying and internalizing quality


The most efficient way to practice is by having access to a coach. In the absence of a coach, you need to become your own coach. In this process, writing is invaluable. It helps you gain clarity on your practice, it allows you to track progress, and it helps you gain self-knowledge.

Self-knowledge? Are you still talking about deliberate practice?

All practices, regardless of form, converge on the same Path: The Path of Wisdom and Mastery.”

On Leverage and Clarity

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What are the highest-leverage things you could reflect – and incrementally make progress – on?”

“I need to give it some thought.”

“Having to think about it every time signals inefficiency. It means there’s room for optimization.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Gain clarity on it once, and make the insight persistent.

Make an open list of the highest-leverage things you could reflect on. I call it the HL List. You can call it any way you want.

In the (inevitable) moments when you lack a clear focus, check the list and resume a path that feels most appealing in the moment.”

Delayed Posting

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“I keep posting my daily writing, only to delete it later.”

“When do you post it?”

“Immediately after I finish it.”

“That’s your problem right there.

Delay posting it. You’ll be able to see it later with fresh eyes.

Even better, delay it until the next day.

“I like the idea of posting today’s writing tomorrow, of always writing for the next day. It takes the pressure off of today.”

“Ironically, you could have waited to post this tomorrow.”

“This is the last time.”

On dealing with time wasters

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

Some activities make it more likely for you to lose balance and waste time. Brian Johnson describes them with a wonderful metaphor: ‘kryptonite’.

What is your kryptonite these day?

It’s of the digital kind: YouTube and Twitter.

What about them makes you lose balance?

In case of YouTube, the suggestions feature. It helps you discover new things, but it’s also distracting. I wish I could disable it, but unfortunately, it’s not possible.

In case of Twitter, the endless scrolling feature. Once I get going, it’s hard to disengage from it.

Why do you think endless scrolling is hard to disengage from?

It makes me enter a trance-like state. While in the state, especially when tired, I lose access to my metacognitive capacity.

Maybe it’s so engaging for the same reason slot machines are engaging: variable rewards – the intermittent reinforcement mechanism in operant conditioning. You never know when you’re going to stumble upon something interesting. And when you do, it feels like a promise of more.

What’s your strategy for dealing with them?

“I marked them as red flags. A conceptual reminder to always set intention before engaging in them; to never engage in them without a clear exit strategy (eg I’m only doing x) – and a backup exit strategy (eg setting a timer).

My System for Tracking Deep Work

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

Why do you track deep work?

Deep work is an essential component of my day. I no longer conceive of a day without deep work.

Tracking allows me to continuously optimize my work day. Deep work is actually an oscillation between work and rest. By tracking it, I can assess the quality of the oscillation at a glance.

What do you track?

You’re familiar with the Eisenhower Matrix:

Important / Urgent – Important deadlines and crises.
Important / Not Urgent – Long-term development.
Not Important / Urgent – Distractions with deadlines.
Not Important / Not Urgent – Frivolous distractions.

I track only what’s important.

How do you track it?

I have a system for it. I use math paper, a pencil, and a pen.

My system at a glance

A dot represents a pomodoro – half an hour of deep work. This is my deep-work unit.
A pencil dot represents a regular pomodoro.
A pen dot represents a high-leverage pomodoro – a pomodoro of doing the things that have the biggest impact on my life.
A circled dot represents the end of the work day – for me it’s usually around 6pm. It’s important to have a ‘shutdown complete’ ritual, as Cal Newport calls it, to close the work mental process [<link; short read]; otherwise, your mind may remain stuck in work mode.

Two separate dots represent pomodoros with a break in between. I take a 10 minute break after every pomodoro, in which I seek to move as much as possible.
Two joined dots represent pomodoros without a break in between. This is a situation I try to avoid. Whenever this happens is a sign I may have lost balance.

Four dots in a row represent a work-block. After a work-block, I take a longer break – 30+ minutes long. If a work-block exceeds four pomodoros, this is another sign I may have lost balance.
A new column indicates that I’ve taken a longer break.

That’s it. Simple and elegant.

Can you give an example?

A work day might look like this:

At the end of the day, I can tell how the day went at a glance.

11 pomodoros of deep work (5.5 hours) in total, of which 8 high-leverage pomodoros (4 hours).

I lost balance three times, two times by not taking a break between pomodoros (the joined dots), and once by exceeding four pomodoros in a row (the second column).

As an additional optimization, I started adding a small I (Input) or O (Output) next to each dot. I have a tendency to have too much input. The I and O symbols allow me to assess my input/output ratio at a glance at the end of the day.

Input/Output Oscillation

The 50/50 Rule: Learn for 50% of the time and explain what you learn for 50% of the time. (Thomas Oppong)

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the optimal input/output ratio [<link; short read] for learning?”

“Which is more important, the input or the output?”

“The output – processing information, implementation/experimentation, explaining what you’ve learned, deliberate practice.”

“Our tendency is to lean towards the input because it’s easy. Spending a few hours absorbing information gives you the illusion of learning. But your efficiency is so low that you’d have been better off using that time elsewhere.

The main principle of Essentialism applies here as well:

Less, but better.

The input/output ratio is a useful metric to get a general sense of how well you’re doing. But it doesn’t tell the whole story. 

Efficiency emerges from the structure of the learning process.

Let’s compare two structures:

(1) Half the day input, half the day output.

(2) Alternating between a pomodoro (30m) of input and a pomodoro of output, for the same total duration.

Both amount to the same input/output ratio at the end of the day, but in terms of efficiency, (2) is vastly superior.”

“Why is it superior?”

“Because it integrates the input with the output into one structure. You no longer conceive of input without immediate output. The input and the output together form a learning cycle.

Learning Cycle = Input + Output

Also because you get faster feedback. Feedback on what you’ve just learned, but also on the efficiency of the learning process itself.” 

“So every learning cycle is also an optimization cycle.”


To increase efficiency, decrease the distance between input and output. Get more cycles in.

It can be 1 pomodoro of input / 1 pomodoro of output.
It can even be 1/2 pomodoro of input / 1/2 pomodoro of output.”

“Does it have to be 50/50?”

“That’s a useful guideline. But don’t take it as gospel. Experiment, see what input/output ratio works best for you.”