Setting Things in Motion

Let’s say you start a business by focusing on your sales. Once you have some consistency with your inbound cash flow, you work to make it profitable only so that your business is financially stable (because growth is not the point). Later, you set up systems and processes so your business is efficient to the point where it’s mostly self-sustaining and requires little to no involvement from you.

I call this approach setting things in motion.

The question is, how can we apply the same approach to our personal lives? How can we set up our lives so we aren’t thinking about things we shouldn’t be thinking about on a daily basis? How can we automate our lives in a way that we are making the most of our attention, thinking less about the mundane and more about things actually worth thinking about?

This isn’t about automating ourselves out of existence, even if it might seem that way. It’s about creating order in our life so we have the freedom to be fiercly creative. Think of it as an overall framework that lets you set things in motion in your personal life, giving yourself the freedom to focus on bigger things and be truly efficient.

It’s akin to putting yourself on a treadmill and running without thinking. The hard part is getting ourselves to step on it in the first place.

Setting things in motion happens to be one of my strengths. It happens to be one of the HOWs to my WHY. The idea is to figure out a process for the thing that concerns you, set it up as part of a process (using various tools), and then forget about it, only to be reminded at an appropriate time in the future. That way, you have finished all the thinking upfront rather than leaving it to chance.

There are various things in my life that collectively form a part of the framework underlying my personal life, freeing me up to think about things worth thinking about.

For instance, when I started writing this weblog, I decided early on that I wanted to write 2,000 drafts in 40 years, so I would put out one draft every week. However, given the way the world is going, I’ve instead given myself 15 more years to write 1,000 drafts, of which I have written 270 or so in the past five years.

Anyway, the point is that starting with the end in mind helped me set this up, so I was able to show up and write every day to put out one draft a week. Of course, there have been weeks where I haven’t put out my writing for one reason or another, but I have gotten back on the bandwagon and reclaimed my focus nonetheless.

The same goes with having a framework for how you do things. In my case, I settled on a daily structure for doing everyday work and it’s worked quite well for me over the years. I structure my weekdays with creative work, consulting work, and admin work, in that order. This system lets me know each week exactly how much time I am spending and where I’m spending it, without having to think about it or calculate. This is also how I know I am spending no more than four hours working every day and 20 hours a week. (I’ll write more about that in a future draft.)

In a similar vein, I figured out a weekly exercise routine for myself, one that will hold in the long run. I learned that you want to focus on increasing three things every week—muscle, endurance, and flexibility—and to make it consistent. Even though my weekly plan could change slightly (depending on sickness, travel, procrastination or what have you), I know this plan will work for me in the long run, even if it may not produce noticeable results in the short term, which is fine because that’s not the reason I’m doing it anyway.

It stands to reason that making decisions for the long term is a fundamental aspect of setting things in motion, without being a slave to your process. Just because you have a process in place as part of an overall personal framework, doesn’t mean you can’t make improvements.

Here’s another example. Every weekend, I spend a couple hours reviewing the previous week and then planning my week ahead so I can make the most out of it. This helps me stay focused and direct my attention to what matters most without worrying about what I am not doing. I have blocked those couple of hours every weekend into perpetuity. It’s by far the best use of my time each week.

I put processes into place that warrant little to no thinking on my part, while I focus on things that actually require my attention in the moment. The rest is part of a process that is eliminated, automated, or delegated. It’s only when we create order in our lives that we have the freedom to express ourselves creatively. Self-discipline, after all, is freedom.

For instance, once a month I reconcile my finances, review subscriptions to various services, and pay my bills. I don’t ever think about these things the rest of the month, because I know I will be reminded at the right time. I don’t have to think about when to get the next oil change or auto service, or when to get a haircut or do a shave—I could go on and on. I have figured out what works for me, how often I need to do it, and when I am going to do it, without having to think about them constantly.

Frankly, I don’t ever think about these things because I have already set them in motion, so to speak. It was only when I decided to write this draft that I had to think hard and look for those things, simply because they are such a natural part in my life.

This idea goes beyond tasks, applying even to our relationships. As I wrote in an earlier draft, I like to keep in touch with those who matter to me. I try to call or email one person in my network most days. I write a fortnightly newsletter for friends to stay in touch with them. Of course, I have yet to create a concrete process for keeping in touch with people in my phonebook, which is why it irks me somewhat, but I’ll figure it out sooner or later, because anything worth doing is worth doing well.

We can also sit down with our partner once a month to clarify our expectations with one another, ensuring that both our needs are being met and our concerns are addressed. The point is, we are not doing things arbitrarily or leaving them to chance.

I understand setting up this entire process requires a ton of self-discipline and long-term thinking for a variety of reasons. It won’t work for everyone either, because not everyone thinks or does things like that. That said, it’s like any other thing you work with in your life. You take one thing in one area of your life and work with it till it becomes second nature. Then you simply wash, rinse, and repeat.

As you can see, this idea of setting things in motion encompasses the various aspects of our personal lives. I hope this draft gives you some food for thought for setting things in motion in your own life, so that you’re making the most of your time and giving things the attention they deserve, and that you are being truly present in everything you do.

Build a system in your life that pushes the mundane to the background so that each day you can focus more on the sublime.

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