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The Perfect FI Day

Laguna Paron, Peru

Whilst I’m still a long way from financial independence I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching recently on my perfect FI day. Without having an endgame in mind, the whole process becomes less meaningful. That really got me thinking about what I want from my life post-FI. What would my perfect FI day look like? Having goals and ambitions even in retirement are a vital part of getting out of bed every morning. So what do them goals look like? And what is the perfect FI day?

Goals & Ambitions

Before getting into my perfect day itself, I’d like to just talk about goals and ambitions. I’m a firm believer that rest is rust. Once you stop, your body stops as well. Keeping up some level of physical and mental exercise is vitally important!

Income

So what does that look like? The ‘retire early’ part of the FIRE movement is always something I have disagreed with. I look at retirement more as re-purposing my time to be able to do things I WANT to do. Rather than working on things simply to earn money. A big part of my ‘retirement’ will be continuing to work in some way. I talked about this a bit more extensively in my post on the problems with financial independence. Still keeping some kind of income, however small, has the added benefit of making your FI number smaller.

Goal 1 – Continue to work on projects I want to, bringing in a minimum of £12,000 per annum

Travel

A huge part of my life is travel, since a 12-month backpacking trip when I was 18 it has been a passion of mine. I was lucky enough to meet my partner on the same trip, and she has an equally large passion for travel. This makes spending time moving around the world an easy decision.

Wanting to travel once retired makes the calculation of on-going yearly expenses a tricky one. Spending 2 months in South East Asia has an entirely different makeup to 2 months in Scandinavia. This is another huge tick for goal number one, keeping some form of regular-ish income outside of portfolio drawdown. Having a portfolio to cover expenses and then my earnings to fund travel sounds absolutely perfect to me.

Goal 2 – Visit at least two new countries every year

Charitable actions

Earning money and travel are something I think most people reading this could get on board with. Charitable actions are something slightly different. Being totally honest, it’s something I’d never really considered either. Recently I listed to a ChooseFI podcast episode with Michael Peterson from the Missionary Fellowship. You can find out more about Michael on his website, but his whole FI life is based around giving. Living a FI lifestyle allows you a lot more margin in your life and that margin can be used for generosity.

This will be different for everybody, but there aren’t many people I know who don’t have something they believe in. Personally, mental health is where my passion lies. In young people, mental health is such a prevalent problem, driven by overuse of social media and constant external pressures. Amongst young men especially it is also such a stigma. People do not talk about mental health, period!. I currently contribute roughly 5% of my income to Mind, the UK based Mental Health charity. The work they do fantastic and as my income grows the charitable donations will grow with it.

With the extra financial margin donating what is probably a relatively small amount of money could have huge ramifications. That’s why from here on out, keeping generosity in my life is key.

Goal 3 – Donate a minimum of 5% of my income to charity

The perfect day

This brings me quite nicely on to my perfect FI day. Keeping a visualization in your head of where you intend to be is amazing for keeping you driven. Having a clear picture in mind keeps the focus and really does help in times of weakness. Weakness being that extra cup of coffee or that extra beer with friends!

So what is my visualization? What is my perfect FI day? In my head, it would go something like this.

6-8am

I’ve not always been an early riser but now I am. Since I have started to wake up earlier and earlier I’ve found my days becoming so much more productive. Barring an extremely late night, 8 am is about as much of a lie in as I take nowadays. My days always start with ‘me’ time, before I look at my phone I always meditate, journal and do some yoga. Spending time on outputs before I overload myself with the external input of the world has been a game changer for me.

This would be followed with a leisurely breakfast and a cup of coffee. Starting in the right way sets you up in the best possible way to make the most of the day ahead. I do normally spend a little bit of time in the morning with my phone. This is mainly catching up on emails, social media, and contact with family and friends.

8-11am

A perfect life from here would have me working/living from somewhere else in the world. So rolling out of my apartment/hostel and dropping down to a local coffee shop laptop in hand. I do like to think I’d spend a couple of hours working most days, so a few hours of freelance work sat in a small local coffee shop (sorry Starbucks!). I guess this is quite anti-FI in terms of spending money on coffee. Stacking that up against renting office space makes the £X a day on coffee seem more reasonable.

The inside of a coffee shop

Mmmmm, coffee!

I don’t quite have an exact plan for what my working life will look like, but I love software development. Doing a job that you love, makes it less of a job and more of a hobby. Writing code gives me that balance. The second benefit of FI, relating back to my third goal of retirement, is using my skills to benefit people. Offering my skills to charities or to start up business’ for free or a nominal fee is something I’d really like to do.

11-4pm

The fun part of the day. This would be where the travel comes in. There would be no reason to spend time in different countries in the world and not actually see them. Taking a few hours out in the morning to get things done leaves me with the rest of the day to see/do things. This might be a hike, some city sightseeing or simply sitting around a reading a book.

These would be my free hours. I expect these hours to develop as I develop, hobbies change and people change so these hours will probably change along with that. Plus, different parts of the world have completely different activities.

4-6pm

Exercise time! Referring back to the saying rest is rust, building in time every day to keep myself fit is a key goal. I’m imagining not ‘letting myself go’ will be quite tricky. This might be a home workout, a run or a hobby (football, golf) but I’ll spend my early evening keeping myself in shape.

6pm – Bedtime

Evenings are my family time! Spending quality time with a partner is key to a healthy relationship. Our days may be spent doing different things or having different hobbies but we will block out time every day to be with each other. This may be a nice evening meal, or simply just sitting and binge-watching some television.

I don’t expect any two days to be exactly the same, and will probably make it part my mission to keep trying new things. However, having this clear vision of what day to day life will be like is part of what keeps you driven.

What is your perfect FI day?

I’d love to hear from anybody else who is willing to share what their perfect #FiDay would look like. If you are interested, let me know using the contact form here or by letting me know on Twitter.

Productivity Lessons Part 3 – Inbox Zero

An empty email inbox

What started out as a super fast and intuitive upgrade to the classic mail system has morphed into an all-encompassing behemoth. If there’s one thing the vast majority of people, myself included, get bogged down in. It’s the dreaded email inbox! I like to think of my inbox as everybody else’s to-do list for me. Which is all well and good, if my own to-do list wasn’t already bursting at the seams. Want to know how to get it under control? Read on.

The problem with an overflowing inbox

Where to start with the problems of an overflowing and un-organized inbox? Is it the scrolling and searching to find the email you want? Is it not knowing what to tackle next? The simple psychology of seeing 100+ new emails awaiting your attention. All these things contribute to the added mental stress of just being a 21st-century employee.

Anybody who works in a job that entails you having your own email address will understand the pain. You feel obliged to have your emails on your phone, this is what the technology was invented for right? You tell yourself you aren’t going to check your emails outside of work hours. But then the one email sneaks in from your boss that you absolutely must look at right away. Before you know it, you’ve spent 3 hours replying to emails and the nice romantic dinner with your significant other is ruined! A bit of a slippery slope argument I know, but I’m trying to make a point.

I used to be a firm advocate for the ‘leave work leave emails behind’ mantra. A recent conversation with a good friend changed my tune a little bit. He had spent over 30 years working with at a well known global IT corporation across a variety of roles, his last of which being in escalation. He also has a perfect analogy for why you should track your emails. (stay with me for a second).

If you were walking down a footpath and saw a cigarette smoldering in the grass, with the grass around it starting to set alight, what would you do? Would you walk on by and leave the fire to grow, or would you stamp it out early on whilst you had the chance?

That analogy changed my opinion on taking work home. Answering a clients question, responding to an email or just knowing what’s on the cards for the next day can save huge amounts of time in the long run.

Now you may be saying that’s counter-intuitive to this whole article. An article written on taking back control of your inbox should not include checking your emails more. That’s absolutely NOT what I’m proposing. What I am proposing, is having more control over your inbox itself to allow you to know at any time what is going on.

So, what are you proposing?

My alternative is simply just taking more control over your inbox. If your inbox is filled with 100+ emails receiving a new one tempts you to check/respond to a couple more. If your inbox is completely empty and you have a process in place for managing new emails, the temptation is gone!

To sidetrack slightly at this point, I get absolutely no notifications on my phone or laptop. Period! Although I do advocate checking emails regularly, I DO NOT get notifications every time I get a new email. I choose to check my emails when I am ready not when the inbox arrives. That may seem alien to some people! What if catastrophic event X happens to one of my clients and I miss the email. My experience from 7+years working in tech. If the event is catastrophic enough, you’ll have more than just an email on the way.

The two-pronged approach

I take a two-pronged approach to manage my inbox and I’ll go into each detail about each prong in a little bit. But to give a brief overview:

  1. Day to day processing – This is the on the fly processing of emails as they arrive. When I take a look at a new email within 2 minutes I’ve decided what to do with said email and removed it from my inbox. That might be filling, moving or god forbid a straight up deletion. You’d be surprised how much of your email can actually be instantly deleted.
  2. Weekly processing – This filters into my weekly review I discussed in part 2 of my productivity lessons series here. As part of my weekly review, I spent a little bit of time looking at things I’d filed and my inbox as a whole. If it had been a particularly busy week, there is every chance my inbox has grown a little bit out of control.

Combining prong one and prong two into a cohesive strategy leads to me spending 80% of my time with an email client looking like this.

An empty email inbox

Weekly processing

As I mentioned, my weekly email processing filters in as part of my whole weekly review strategy. There are, however, a couple of structural pieces within my mailbox itself that help the whole process. Lots of people I know have sub-folders on top of subfolders and elaborate email filing structures. It basically turns their emails into a filing cabinet. That isn’t what emails are for? Would you do the same for your physical post? Keeping every single piece just in case you need it later? No, no you would not?

My inbox structure sits in two separate parts;

Actionable

Actionable things are emails that I need to keep my eye on. Whether that’s because they directly need my attention, I need to review the contents or I may need to action the email at some point in the future. This splits my email up into 3 folders

@Action

Anything filed under @action is requiring my direct attention. Anything that is moved into @action is also added to my master action list that I talked about in part 2 of the series. This has the benefit of knowing that when I come to the item on my to do list, any corresponding resources are easily accessible.

@Read

That change in company procedure? The client quote document you need to review at some point in the future? An interesting blog post you want to read? Welcome to the @read folder. Anything you want to review, but not get sidetracked with straight away heads to review. Personally, I have email rules set up to move interesting blog subscriptions straight into the read folder. When I have time sat with nothing to do, this is once of the first places I head.

@Waiting

You’ve been CC’d on an email that requires your attention, but only after your colleague has confirmed it’s good to go. At this time it’s not something your working on directly. But it’s also something you’ve reviewed and MAY need to access in the future. Get it in the @waiting folder. This is a storage area for all those emails that may eventually land on your desk, but right now are not your problem.

Note: The @ is significant just to ensure the 3 folders stay at the top of my email clients list of subfolders

Filed

I used to be an email hoarder. There, I finally admitted my problem. Every flight booking, hotel reservation, and Amazon order confirmation would get stored away. My reasoning, well what if I need to see what I bought in February 2011 at some point in the future? My email inbox was Inception-like, a folder within a folder within a folder. It was horrible! As well as being horrible, I couldn’t recall a single time I had gone back into one of these folders. The alternative will be different for everybody. But my filing system currently is

  1. Confirmations – If I book a flight, hotel, concert etc the confirmation email gets stored in my confirmations folder. It is stored in here until after the event has passed, at which point it’s deleted
  2. Work – Any important work-related emails that come to my personal email address. Things like contracts, salary negotiations etc that should be easily accessible
  3. House – Any emails to do with the house we own. Mortgage information, change of utilities etc. This is probably left over from my email hoarding, but it keeps me happy knowing all this stuff is together
  4. General collection – Any other rubbish I need to store and not delete. This is equal to my incredibly complex folder structure, just all in one place. Every single reputable email client now has pretty advanced search functionality, so keeping everything in one folder really doesn’t slow you down in any way.

Anything else that doesn’t fit into one of these categories? Bye bye email, you are gone forever. To the trash!

Actionable tip 1 – Get your email structure in place

If you are currently at the point of having more emails you can ever possibly imagine, the first time processing may be painful. It will almost definitely take you a large chunk of time. Stick with it, get everything moved, filed or deleted and then move on. Move on, with a cleaner mind as well as a cleaner inbox.

Day to day processing

The business end of email processing, how I manage emails that land in my inbox. One of the most important distinctions I make on this, close down your email client! Get that tab closed. Exit Microsoft Outlook! Don’t even tempt yourself.

 Actionable tip 2 – Keep your email client closed down

The counter-argument I always hear to this, yep you guessed it. What if super urgent important email X arrives and I miss it. Too which my response is; a) your inbox is going to be so clean you couldn’t possibly miss it and b) if it’s so urgent you’ll get a phone call. No need to worry, ever!

Ok, maybe not ever. But I hope you get the point. Keeping your mail client closed down removes those annoying notifications that are just crying out to be clicked. We’ve all been there. Mid-way through writing a super urgent thing and Dave from HR sends out a funny cat video. I’m really into this report and can’t really look away, but what could a quick look hurt. After watching the cat video (yes, it was hilarious) you notice person A from client B has asked you to do something. Therein lies the issue, now your stuck in your inbox.

via GIPHY

Schedule your inbox

If your following along with this series, you’ll already have planned out your working day. All you need to do is build in time around that to check your inbox. This will vary massively from person to person. Working in a direct customer service role, you probably need to keep your eye on it a little more. A software developer who only ever receives internal emails, you probably don’t need to check your emails quite as often. Personally, 2-3 times a working day is usually my limit. Once when I first start, once just after lunch and once before I shut down for the day.

To clarify, I do tend to keep an eye on my emails outside of working hours if I have nothing else taking my active attention. ‘Inbox scheduling’ is meant for when your pro-active attention is meant to be on other things.

Actionable tip 3 – Work out your opitmal inbox schedule and stick to it!

When it comes to a time when you’re going to delve into your inbox, keep the weekly processing in mind. Apply the same steps.

  1. Start from the oldest email first
  2. Do I need to action it?
    1. Is my action going to take me less than 2 minutes? Better get my arse in gear and action is right away
    2. Longer than 2 minutes, get it in the @action folder and into my digital to do list
  3. Is it something I need to review in more detail? Yes? Get it in the @read folder
  4. Is it an email that may concern me at some point in the future. You know the script by now. Get it in @waiting
  5. Do I absolutely 100% need to store this email? Will I need to access it again in the future? File it away
  6. Delete it

With a bit of practice, this whole process should take minutes. That way, you can be back into doing the things that you planned on getting done today and removing the constant interruptions.

Handling the urgent email

Your weekly review is on point. Day to day processing is done in minutes and you are spending less and less time sitting in your inbox. Productivity is through the roof. Yet the same scenario will always rear it’s ugly, productivity-killing head. The urgent email!

You had your day mapped out nicely, 3 tasks you needed to get boxed off. The killer that was number 1 is out of the way. Your midway through number 2 when you break for lunch and then check your inbox. Shit… A clients system is completely offline and they are freaking out. What do you do? As the helpful and attentive employee you are, of course you get involved.

Unfortunately, I am yet to find a magic wand for these scenarios. Scenarios which take many different forms. Your boss needs an urgent report? A customer is chasing an order that is a month late? The sales team have called an emergency meeting? These things are all part of working life and despite our best efforts, unexpected things will always happen.

All I can advise on this scenario, use your own knowledge of your own job. Is the email actually of such importance that you need to drop everything you are doing right away? In a lot of cases, I’d imagine probably not. Keep your flow, keep your brain in what you are doing and then come back to the ‘urgent’ email later. If it truly is an all hands on deck, monumental problem. Well, get involved and help as best you can.

Rounding up

I hope I’ve shown a better way of managing your inbox. Even if you don’t take all of these points on board, most importantly picking up even a couple will massively improve your relationship with your emails. It always makes me chuckle now, seeing somebody’s overflowing and uncontrollable inbox. Don’t be that person anymore! Get your inbox in order and take back control.

Download links

Email processing document

Why you should put your phone down right now

Counter-intuitive I know, as you’re probably reading this on your phone, but put it down. As a blogger, the mobile phone is one of my best way of connecting with my audience. Sat on the train? In a waiting room? The mobile phone is a magical piece of technology. Sat having dinner, maybe not so much.

For any of my finance community followers, this article isn’t going to be filled with investments tips. Nor will it be filled with actionable advice on being frugal. It’s one of a number of posts I’ve wanted to share for a while now. Hoping to cover some personal, slightly against the norm changes I’ve made to improve my lifestyle.

Simon Sinek telling it how it is

I’d like to start by asking you to take the time and watch this whole video. Honestly, just take 7 minutes of your day to watch.

Almost every word in this video rings so true! As a society, we are addicted to our smartphones, period.

My personal journey

I’m a techie, I love technology. So my relationship with my phone used to be pretty bad. The constant pings. The checking for new content every few minutes. The sitting at my desk with my phone next to me, interrupting my flow as I tried to get things done.

I do have a slight saving grace, I believe I grew up in the last generation of children that didn’t have smartphones. I had game consoles, yes! But the main bulk of my summers as a child were spent outside, making dens, getting dirty and just generally being a nuisance. I don’t mean to sound like an old man, but kids these days… What childhood is there spent in Fortnite?

Looking back now, it’s hard to find a time of life that was less enjoyable. Less carefree. Time wasn’t spent worrying about what the world thinks, or what other people think of us. Normal school popularity contests aside, life was easy!

A combination of the iPhone and social media completely changes this. Nowadays, as a child, if you’re not doing something epic on Instagram. Posting interesting things on twitter or your life on Facebook than are you really doing anything? And then if you aren’t stressing about what your next post is going to be, you’re spending time scrolling through Facebook and discovering what epic times everybody else is having. Healthy? Not in the slightest.

Changing the status quo

So what are the options? I can honestly say the answer is not to get rid of smartphones. They are extremely useful pieces of technology that have changed how we are all connected. They make staying in touch, getting things done and being productive easier than ever. In the same way that not all types of plastic are ruining the oceans, not all types of smartphone use are bad.

The phone itself is not the problem, the phone itself is useful. It’s what you do with the phone and how you interact with the phone that causes the problems. As Simon Sinek says in the video, each interaction on social media gives a dopamine hit. That dopamine becomes addictive, your body craves it. So then you find yourself hunting out the next dopamine hit. Before you know it your checking your phone every 30 seconds hoping something happens.

Just the other day, a friend of ours (let’s say they are called Jeff) posted something on Facebook whilst sat in our lounge. Now I wasn’t watching over Jeff’s shoulder, but I could see his laptop screen. He would check the post, then go back to Facebook news feed and scroll for a minute or two. The go back to the post and check it again, then back to the news feed. Seeing everybody else’s ‘best bits’ on the feed and then that nobody was liking the post, can that really be good mentally?

The alternate path

So how do we handle this epidemic? My starting point… I went through and disabled every notification on my phone and removed all social media apps. The one exception being Facebook Messenger as this is the main way I keep in touch with my father. Now, my phone never bings. It never interrupts me when I’m working. I’m more connected to my work and more connected to the world around me.

Actionable step 1 – Disable all notifications

I’m in control of my interruptions, I check my social media when I’m ready. Social media doesn’t tell me when I am ready to check it.

Now to be clear, I think there are benefits to social media and I do use my social media to keep in touch with people. I use it to find out what my closest friends are doing with their lives. It’s an incredible tool for keeping us all more connected and in touch with each other. Used in the wrong way, it can be disastrous.

The changes you’ll see

Once you start on this path, you’ll notice the changes in your perception. I find myself noticing more and more about how much people overuse their phones. I’m not sitting on my high horse and preaching here, it’s a fact. Sit in any coffee shop or restaurant and just spend a few minutes looking around. Look around at how little people interact, at how little people talk.

Try it, for a day or a week. Completely disconnect from social media, not necessarily your phone as a whole. Just remove the temptation by removing the possibility of the temptation being acted upon. If you don’t have a facebook app, scrolling through Facebook becomes more a chore and less of a habit.

The science says that it takes around 66 days to completely break a habit (taken from sciencealert.co.uk). If you can keep this disconnect up for that long you will no longer feel the requirement to check it and that is where I now sit. In the headspace that has given me back control over my phone and my attention.

The downsides

As always, there are flip sides. No lifestyle switch can be undertaken without there being a trade-off. The biggest one I’ve found is actually slightly illogical for why I did this in the first place. What is it you ask? Being less responsive to my friends and family. The trade-off of having no notifications on my phone is that if somebody gets in touch I may take X number of minutes/hours to respond. If I’m in the middle of something then the person who needs me will have to wait.

My counter-argument to this is actionable tip number 2.

Actionable tip 2 – Have a mantra, if the phone rings ALWAYS answer it

I like to think my friends/family/colleagues know that if the phone rings, then I answer it. If I’m needed in an emergency or anything important then a phone call indicates that. Conversely, I’m needed to be told that my parent’s dog has a new toy, not so important. (Sorry Mum, if you’re reading this).

Take action today! It may be difficult at first and you’ll find yourself reaching for your phone. But at the very least try to be more attentive to it. Be attentive to your phone, attentive to your habits. Hey, changing these habits may even help you become more productive when you realise how much better your time could be spent.

Interested in productivity, or hearing more of my senseless rambling then check out part 1 of my productivity series here.

 

Productivity Lessons Part 2 – Getting things done

 “The secret of getting ahead is getting started”
Mark Twain

Oh, procrastination! How you waste our valuable time. How you take our ever growing to do list and make it sit around idly whilst we binge our way through another Netflix series. Just imagine for a second a world where drugs have been invented to ‘cure’ procrastination. Everybody’s productivity is off the charts and things are getting done left, right and center. Whilst I can’t claim to be selling this drug from my blog (I’d wouldn’t be blogging about a journey to financial independence if I could). I do have years worth of personal experience in taking my productivity game to the next level.

Introducing productivity 2.0

Around 18 months ago I read the book ‘Getting things done’ by David Allen and it has taken me on a bit of a journey to rapidly improve my own productivity and how I manage my own workload. If you’ve read the book, a lot of the points you see in this article will be familiar. If you haven’t, Id strongly recommend heading out right now and picking up a copy.

The broad concept of GTD and my own personal way of working is to remove things from my brain. If you’re like me and have a really crappy habit of constantly forgetting what needs to be done this will ring even truer. Every time a thought pops into my head, or I’m asked to do something it is instantly recorded. Brain is happy, James is happy, everybody’s happy!

This list of stuff I’ve noted down is then analyzed, processed and fine-tuned before eventually making it to my to-do list. This single list covers work, side hustles, my blog and my personal life. Phone calls I need to make, emails I need to send and the specific tasks I need to get done for all my projects to ensure I continue to be a productive human being.

The best thing about all this; gone are the days of lying awake in bed thinking about all the things I need to do because my brain knows they are all stored safely. This is the absolutely fundamental point, your brain needs to be confident that it can safely forget. Better sleep AND increased productivity, who can argue with that?

Where’re the lists at

The logical place to start with this whole process is where I store all this information. I spent quite a while trying different to-do list providers, all with similar makeup and functionality. The best of the bunch for me is todoist (https://todoist.com/tour?lang=en). I can honestly say, of all the productivity tips and tricks I’ve found, this has been the number one life-changing one. Taking everything out of my brain and into this wonderful little web app has improved my life in a multitude of ways. FYI, I have nothing to gain at all from recommending todoist, I just really like the app.

Actionable step 1 – Signup for todoist or another list making provider

Todoist to do list makeup

Within todoist itself, my lists are setup as in the above screenshot. To quickly run through the main sections one by one and provide a little more detail.

Inbox

The inbox is a built-in list that can’t be changed, this is the inbox of my brain. Anything new that comes into my head, an article I find online I want to read later or a task someone asks of me gets instantly dropped into the inbox. I have a shortcut on the home screen of my phone to give me nice easy access. Depending on the time of the week (more on this later) the inbox is either bursting at the seems or nice and peaceful.

Today/Next 7 days

A couple more built-in ones here and 2 lists I probably don’t use quite as much as I should. Today/next 7 days simply give you a list of any tasks you have set a date against that are due within the respective time frames. Useful, yep! But anything I have in my list of things to do that is really time critical gets stored in my actual calendar over ToDoist. The action itself will be in here, but probably without a timescale.

Master Actions

Breakdown of todoist master action list

The master actions list is where the magic happens, this is my day to day working list of all the next actionable steps I need to complete to keep my life moving forward. You could hold this as one huge long list, but I find it so much easier to break it down into smaller sublists as you can see in the above screenshot.

P = Personal
Home = Odd jobs around the house
soSq = Work

At the start of every day, I review this list of master actions and use that to plan my workload for the day ahead. All the tasks here will be Specific, Trackable, and Actionable. A task of ‘chase up John at client X‘ isn’t overly useful. That same task rewrote to ‘Send an email to John at customer X to ask him if the project is going ahead or not. john@customerx.com‘ is so much better for your brain and your productivity. Everything you need to get the task done is waiting for you and the task can be completed with very little brainpower.

Projects

An overarching list of all the separate ‘projects’ I am working on at any one time. A project is defined as a large task that needs to be completed that can be broken down into a series of smaller tasks. For example; ‘call gardener for fencing quote‘ would not be a project, however, ‘Re-fence garden‘ would be. This project list is simply a place to hold all the separate threads you’re trying to hold together and move forward. Whilst not necessarily something you’ll look at day to day, it’s worth having when it comes around to weekly review time.

Waiting for

Nice easy one here, any tasks you are waiting on other people before you can work on them again. Let’s say before you can start a new piece of software development work you are waiting for approval from your line manager, in the waiting for list it goes. I do find it useful to set dates against items in here, the date simply being when I expect to need to chase this up. If a client said to me I want to go ahead with the project, but not until April next year. In the waiting for list it would go with a date of 1st April 2019.

Good ideas

Depending on how much I have on my plate at the time, this is either my most loved or hated list. The good ideas list is simply to be filled with the things you wish you could get done if you had more time. Currently, mine contains things like learn to speak Italian and learn more about infer.net (a machine learning programming language, yep computer nerd here!). I also include albums/podcasts to listen to, books/blogs to read and places to go and see. If I’m feeling on top of things this is a really great place to look to determine what comes next.

Actionable step 2 – Structure your lists

Keeping on top of things

One of the most difficult parts of managing a to-do list is simply just keeping on top of it. Stopping it spiraling out of control can be difficult. An unwieldy and large todo list is a productivity killer, pure and simple! An organized and well thought out review process is key to keeping yourself out of this minefield.

The Daily Review

On any given day in which I plan to sit down and ‘work’, I spend 5-10 minutes running through a checklist that helps me to ensure my day is productive and is used to fullest effect. You can find download links for both this checklist and my weekly review checklist at the bottom of the article. The steps I follow are here, with a little extra bit of detail about each one:

  1. What’s in my calendar today and are there any deadlines looming in the next 3-5 days. This reminds me of anything I have pre-booked for the day (meetings, phone calls etc). It also gives me a mental note of anything coming up in the next few days.
  2. Big rocks – What would a good day of actions look like today and what are the 1, 2 or 3 ‘big rocks’ that need some focus or mental heavy lifting. This is based on my master action list from todoist and it allows me to focus on the highest priority tasks that are currently outstanding
  3. Out of those tasks which is the one I am most likely to not want to do. Once that’s decided to move it to number 1 on the list. This is one of the most important on the list. Focusing on the thing I LEAST want to do gives me a real boost to start the day. It really gets the productivity snowball rolling!
  4. Out of those tasks which requires the most intense concentration of my proactive attention. Use this to shape the schedule of your day. The answer to this question will be different for everybody. I find I’m most productive between 9am and lunchtime, so anything I really need to focus on is scheduled in these hours. Tasks that need less focused attention (phone calls etc) are left for post-lunch time.
  5. Are any of the things I’ve chosen time, people or resource dependant. Is there a necessity for when they get done. This is related to point 1 and quite important. If I start work at 9 and have a call scheduled at 930, making a high focus task the first thing I do wouldn’t be sensible.

I answer these questions into the ‘Today’ section of todoist and then refer back to that throughout the day. I’ve found this really helps to shape my days and keep them super productive, but the real procrastination killer is the weekly review.

Actionable step 3 – Make your daily review a habit

The Weekly Review

For keeping on top of things and getting things done, nothing has improved it more than a weekly review. I have an hour blocked out in my calendar once a week, every week until the end of time. I use this time to run through another checklist (download link at the bottom of the article). I’m not going to run through this in huge amounts of detail, as the checklist itself is quite explanatory.

One of the biggest takeaways, however, is the clear-headedness and knowledge that everything is going to get done. Spending time every single week to review what’s happened and plan what’s going to happen means nothing gets missed. Nothing gets forgotten and shit gets done.

Picking a time that is reasonably distraction-free and a place where it is quiet is imperative. Talk to your colleagues about what you’re doing so they don’t interrupt you. People might think it’s odd at first and think you’re wasting time. But once the hugely increased productivity comes through, they will be begging you for answers.

Actionable step 4 – Block an hour out in your calender for your weekly review.

In Summary

Following the actionable steps in this article will get you well on the way to banishing procrastination from your life. Letting your brain concentrate on the current task and moving everything else out of your head will instantly give you a focus boost. That boost in focus will instantly help to get things done.

Coming up next in my productivity lessons; reaching the mecca of inbox zero! Yep, that’s right. A completely empty inbox.

An empty email inbox

Download Links

Weekly Checklist

Daily Checklist

 

My Problem with Financial Independence

On Friday night I had a wonderful conversation on Twitter with Kali Roberge (@KaliRoberge) of the upcoming podcast series Beyond Finance. It’s pretty safe to say it sent me on a bit of an inner journey into why exactly I have started on this path to becoming financially independent and what I aim to get out of it in the long term. I find the best way to assess my own thoughts is to write them down, and I figured why the hell should I not put my internal monologue out there for the world to see! What could possibly go wrong with that, this is the internet after all!

(more…)

Productivity Lessons – Part 1

Productivity; The effectiveness of productive effort, especially in industry, as measured in terms of the rate of output per unit of input. We all want to be much more productive! I’m sure a good majority of us (me included) fall into bed with productivities much less glamorous little brother, procrastination; the action of delaying or postponing something. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past 12 months implementing tips to try and divorce myself from the little brother.

We all want to get things done, period! If we were all 100% productive 100% of the time you can almost guarantee you’d be more ‘successful’ than you are now in whatever that field may be, Life, however, does always have a nasty habit of getting in the way. Even more so in today’s climate of constant connection and interruption! Just look at the amount of ‘pings’ your phone gets in a 30 minute period. Go on, become conscious of it over the next 30 and count the beeps. I’m sure you’ll be surprised! Factor that into times of effort when pure un-interrupted focus is needed and you’ll realise the problem that comes with a generation obsessed with #FOMO.

This is a personal finance blog I hear you scream, why are you talking about productivity. It’s a good question, thanks for asking! The vast majority of the financial independence community focuses on cutting expenses and how to use the surplus money you end up with. What a lot of people don’t tend to talk about quite as much is the income boosting side of FI. Whilst increased productivity doesn’t have a direct and tangible effect on your income, an increase is almost certain to get you moving up the career ladder.

Where are we going with this?

This article is the first of a series I’m going to keep adding to, with no limit to the number we will end up with. I’m in the business of constant personal improvement. So whenever I discover a new life-hack or improve my own process in any way you’ll hear about it here first. Initially, you can expect to see me cover:

  • How I plan my workload on day to day and weekly basis
  • Brain clearing – Outsourcing my to-do list
  • Reaching inbox zero (this is one of my personal favourites)
  • Pomodoro (yes, this article will involve tomatoes) and the science of regular breaks
  • Sleep and the importance of getting your 8 hours
  • How to cultivate a state of flow
  • Disconnecting from your mobile phone (one of the hardest, but most tangible)

Why would you listen to me?

I’m not an expert or a scientist, let me make that clear right away! I’m just a young man constantly trying to improve. Just over 12 months ago I read the book Get Things Done by David Allen and it kind of became my bible. Through implementing the steps in that book and picking up a few other tips and hacks along the way I now feel able to share and help other people. Some of the ideas and actions I have you may disagree with and that’s cool! I’m always open to discussion and am a firm believer that you don’t know what you don’t know until you know! Yep, read that sentence again if that first time was a bit of a blur.

If you are interested in becoming the most productive version of you drop your email in the signup box just below the bottom of this post. That way you’ll get the latest section of the series direct to your inbox where you can store it for all of eternity. Otherwise, hit me up on Twitter or Facebook and let’s just start a conversation.

UPDATE: Part 2 of the series is now live here

The Path to FI – November 2018

Monthly Expenses Summary November 2018

Hi all, and welcome to my first Path to FI post. These posts will cover my monthly budget, my portfolio performance and general musings about my financial month. I’ll be publishing these updates once a month and hope they will have a twofold benefit. The first is to try and help people looking at their own expenses and wondering how easy it can be to cut costs (I’m no saint by the way!) and also to allow me to analyse my own spending to help reduce costs where I can.

Income & Expenses

Monthly Expenses Summary November 2018

I keep track of all my income and expenses in a pretty large Google Sheet that has a couple of summary pages to allow me to track expenses all the time; I like to refer to this as my defence against lifestyle creep. I mean who can argue with a graph! On a month by month basis I track expenses as above. The ‘fun’ column is kept as small as I physically can and the other 3 columns are pretty static most months, I also normally hold each individual expenditure in the fun column but for the purposes of this article, I’ve condensed them all into one figure.

For comparison’s sake, our house is a 2 bedroom semi-detached cottage built in the 1880s. It has no gas so both heating and electricity are provided through electric, one of the more expensive ways to heat your home. We do try to use the heating as little as possible for exactly that reason, instead choosing to light the wood burner.

From a financial point of view, I am reasonably happy with my expenses. I am slowly working my way up towards a 50% savings rate and once I have my car loan, my credit card and loan repayment gone I will almost be there. Currently, any extra money I earn is going straight into aggressively paying off the loans to free up some extra cash flow on a month by month basis. The misc expenses are a little high for my liking, but as long as they sit between 10-15% of income I can cope.

Portfolio Performance

As I have no past posts to compare to, my first portfolio performance will just be a summary of my current strategy and the respective numbers. When I began investing around 9 months ago I had just finished the book ‘How to own the world’ by Andrew Caig. The book is a huge advocate for quite extensive diversification through stocks, bonds and precious metals among other things, Due to this and at the time a really low price in both platinum & gold I do have a reasonably large percentage of my portfolio sat in precious metals.

Since then I’ve found the FI community, the legend that is Mr JL Collins and have begun an exercise of moving all my investments into low-cost index funds. Being from the UK, VTSAX is not an option so instead, I run with the Vanguard Lifestrategy 100%. The breakdown across the world looks good and in itself is reasonably well diversified. I also hold around 20% of my portfolio in the Vanguard Global Bond Index to try and smooth my ride through the peaks and troughs out a little bit.

I also hold a small percentage of my portfolio in emerging markets, specifically the iShares Emerging Markets Equity Index. Although the Vanguard Lifestrategy holds around 7% in emerging markets, I’ve increased my exposure here a little more. As I get closer to my FI date I’ll move these back into Lifestrategy but for the next few years, I am ok with the extra risk involved with an emerging markets index.

To summarise, my current portfolio looks like:

Total Value: 3,136.95
Stocks: 2,028.59
Bonds: 393.65
Precious Metals: 714.71

Thoughts & Feelings

I’m happy with how my investing life has started, and am just ecstatic to be on the road to FI even though it is still quite a distance away. My current predictions have me hitting FI in 2041 which, whilst still 20 years away, is 10 years earlier than my goal of being fully retired by 55.

FI Predictions November 2018

Once I do get some more of my debts paid off and manage to increase my savings rate up to near 50% these numbers start to look a little rosier.

FI Predictions with a 50% savings rate

My calculations also don’t really account for any salary increases or bonuses, so the numbers here are my worst case scenario.

One of the other things I’ve been considering this month and will be writing a more detailed post on in the near future is the emergency fund. I always planned on holding roughly 6 months expenses in an emergency fund as just in case money. After listening to an episode of the ChooseFI podcast (If you haven’t listened to it before, go and listen right now it’s incredible!) I am going to change this strategy slightly.

The chances of me needing 6 months expenses in a really short time frame are pretty unlikely, so holding that amount of money in a savings account paying 1.5% interest seems like a waste. Instead, I am going to switch this around to hold 1-2 months in really easy access cash savings and the rest in a 70/30 bond to equities split mini-portfolio within my actual portfolio. The high bond allocation should hopefully stop me having my emergency fund obliterated during any downturns, but will give me greater than the 3% return I’m currently getting.

If a scenario did ever come to be, and I have spent quite a while racking my brains about what that scenario would look like, I would use my 0% credit card to pay and then move the money out of my portfolio to pay off the credit card! Easy peasy!

Thanks for taking the time out to read this, as I mentioned, in the beginning, I’m going to make these budget posts a monthly thing. Any feedback/tips/requests would be hugely appreciated, drop me a message in the comments here are tweet me at @millennialfire1

 

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