88: Annual Check-Ins

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Thank you guys for this episode. I really appreciate your candor. My 13-year-old recently had to pick a word that described him. He picked “Honesty: I tell the truth, even when it hurts.” It can’t have been easy for Mike to be as honest as he was, but, wow, it really helped me to understand where he’s coming from. I felt badly for having given him a little bit of a hard time on this forum over his review Scott Young’s “Ultralearning.” The review makes total sense, now, as the response of someone who was physically ill and coming off of a period of too little margin.

David is the age of my younger brother. I’ve been picking up, dusting off, and starting all over again even longer than he has, and although he certainly has figured out things I haven’t (which is why I listen) I laughed out loud the when I heard him report his (belated?) discovery that he needed a recovery day after travel.

David’s former co-host on this podcast mentioned that we don’t get graded on the “scaffolding.” That is true, and good to bear in mind. At the same time most us do need at least some structure in order to keep our attention focused where it will do the most good. Some of this structure needs to be rebuilt on a daily basis (PM planning, David reports that he suffers when he neglects this). Also, as resources, opportunities, and demands shift, we find ourselves pressed to modify and redesign some elements.

When the two of you share how you are doing this, and why, I think it helps the rest of us gain perspective on our own situations, and it reminds us that we are all in this together–we all have to adapt and to make tough choices. Sometimes, as in David’s case of helping out his friend at a cost of other commitments, there’s no obvious right answer, but I am glad that David is the kind of person who extends himself to help a friend.

Themes–at the beginning of 2018, I declared a “paperless” theme; today, I still have about 38(!) boxes worth of paper to process. I haven’t started my own annual review, but I can say that this is a case of me seeing only the tip of the iceberg when I started. I have learned much, though, and MPU and Focused have been invaluable.

Journals–for years I’ve been using a blank, phone-sized moleskine with an elastic band, ribbon bookmark, and pocket (stocked with post-its). I tuck my phone and a pencil into the notebook and have it with me all the time. Most afternoons, I sketch a plan for the next day, most weeks, I sketch a plan for the next week, which I mark with a post-it for quick reference. I have other reference, tracking pages at the front and back of each journal. Over time, my “system” has grown organically and has trained me to become consistent with PM and weekly planning, as the payoff is so great and, yet, because the notebook is blank, there is nothing to maintain, so I can always start fresh.

The downsides are that (1) I now have a bazillion of these (I had to smile when Shawn Blanc spoke of the comforting feeling he got from seeing his half dozen journals sitting on his shelves. “Just wait, I thought, just wait”) and (2) they are not very easy to browse or search, compared to digital. Because of these downsides I downloaded the sweet setup’s new digital planner (Shawn has seen the light). I love this product’s flexibility…but I can’t yet put my iPad in my pocket. Still, change is coming.

Caffeine–it also may be important to know that individuals vary in their sensitivity to its effects and the speed at which their body can processes it. These variations are significant, and have genetic underpinnings. (I learned about this in a lecture at Caltech by the (one of the?) founders of 23 & me.).


Thanks for the great episode!
I have a question. Mike mentioned using the Headspace app for a quick 3 minute meditation session in the morning, as a start of the day. I have Headspace, but so far I really can’t get into meditation. I listen to something (e.g. the course about productivity on Headspace) for a few minutes, and then I quit because it feels like a waste of time. I can’t concentrate on it and I feel I have more important things to do. But then again, most of the sessions I have found on Headspace are at least 10 minutes long. Too long for a beginner probably.
Can someone direct me to the type of short meditation sessions Mike was talking about? Something that is easily doable at the beginning of my day and that I will sit through because it’s not too long?

Hi! I too tried Headspace, and Calm. I cannot tell you exactly why but I felt uncomfortable with both Apps and their approach. Then, in the Focused episode with Shahid on Digital Decluttering (excellent episode imho) it clicked on me and I realized what meditation could do for me. Some days later I saw some YouTube videos of Dan Harris and his experience that led him to meditation (he had a panic attac on live TV) and to write his first book „Ten Percent Happier“. Now I have the Ten Percent Happier App and am a happy subscriber. It has some shorter 5 minute meditations, alongside with longer videos and meditations. I like that it allows to choose sessions from a variety of experienced guides so one can find one that fits to one‘s personal style. Now I am completely sold and dedicate about 17 minutes per day to a mixture of brief video with some theory and a guided meditation. I even subscribed and enjoy their podcast.

Thanks for your reply! I hadn’t heard about Ten Percent Happier yet, but I’ll download the app and see if it works better for me.


I was wondering if you would be able to give specs on the various Levenger products you settled on for your “system”? Thanks in advance.

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Hi @garrickbailey

I am using the letter size and do most work with the grid paper. As an example, below is today’s page with some data blocked

Thanks, @MacSparky! I think you may have put words to my longtime struggle with notebook consistency and I am hoping the ability to shift paper around and/or scan proves to be the key to realizing all my hopes and dreams. :wink: