Building a System for Improvement

A long time ago, someone asked me what my ultimate life goal would be. It was easy. I have always wanted one thing more than anything else in the world:

I want to know everything.

But, there aren’t enough hours in the day for me to spend Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours on every possible topic. Sure, I could McNinja it, but I don’t have access to the clone of Benjamin Franklin.

Obviously, the next best scenario would be robots-body upgrade. The technology exists (sort of), but, I’m not a fan of being an early adopter. Let the rich weirdos worry about the bugs. I’ll come in when it’s cheap and effective. Mass-produced robot-body is my best option. We’re not there yet.

So, I’m looking for the next best thing. I think I found it as advice from a professional cartoonist.

Don’t have goals. Have Systems.

paraphrased from Scott Adams
How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big

I might not turn myself into a robot, but, I can systematize as much of my life as possible to achieve a similar outcome.

Which is why I built a system.

My system is simple

My system comprises two factors for each of the things I’m trying to accomplish:

  1. A thing I do
  2. A time I do it

Pretty basic. Which is the point. Everything about the system is as mindless as possible until it is time to do mentally taxing work. I’m trying to reserve as much willpower as I can so I can use it in big exhausting chunks.

I’m turning my life on autopilot so my brain can devote itself to accomplishing my wacky goals.

The system is simple. The hard part is figuring out what to plug into it.

I created a simple system for that, too.

First, I need to know what I want

When your overall life goal is to learn everything, focusing down on the action steps is difficult. How do I overcome my innate ADD? How do I choose what is important right now?

Spending too much time thinking about this is counterproductive. The entire goal is to do more with the time I have. I can’t spend another hour in existential angst.

Which is why I turn to Maslow.

Stealing from the Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological theory about pursuing happiness by fulfilling a made of basic human needs. It is the food pyramid for your emotional well-being. The theory is semi-complicated. Much too complicated for my personal needs at this moment. So I’ve simplified it.

Foundation: Reduce My Anxiety

“Enhance your calm, John Spartan

The bottommost layers of the pyramid are about physical well-being. You need to have food, water, and shelter. Then, you need personal security. I’m lucky enough to live in the 21st century in the United States and have a decent job. The likelihood I will starve to death is low. I have a home and can pay my bills.

What I’m not good at is maintaining all of those things. I’m sure higher parts of the pyramid come into play here, but sometimes I get off work, come home, and go to bed. It isn’t a great way to keep your house clean and your body healthy.

The first thing I will make sure I do every day — my first system — is some task I can use to reduce my worry and anxiety about basic life needs.

Plugging it into the system

Knowing I need to be better about maintaining my life makes it easy for me to figure out all the little things I need to do every day, week, and month to make my life work. I put everything into my system. Well, everything short of when I use the restroom. Some things just shouldn’t be automated.

Here is my current list of life maintenance tasks:

  • Brush teeth
  • Take shower
  • Make bed
  • Sort laundry
  • Sort mail
  • Cook dinner
  • Wash dishes
  • Take out trash
  • Vacuum floor
  • Change and wash sheets
  • One 20/10 cleaning session

I add new things to this list as they emerge. I’m using the system from Unfuck Your Habitat to establish a cleaning baseline and get myself organized. The 20/10 cleaning sessions follow the checklists on that site. As I work through those checklists, I’m adding different things to my system. I’m learning what I need to make sure I do every day and what I can do only what he needs attention.

Now I have a list, I’m still using the UFyH to tell me how often to do these things. So, I brush my teeth every day, but I only vacuum the floor once a week. The important parts of the system, is doing these tasks at the same time every day. So, regardless of what part of my apartment I’m focusing on with my 20/10 cleaning session, I do it between 8:00 PM and 8:30 PM.

Mid-tier: Talk to People

Everybody needs somebody, sometimes

The middle of the pyramid is about social needs. Despite the growing misanthropy in our society, we all need friends.

I have tried to pretend like I don’t. I considered a life of hermitude at one point. It is still appealing, living in a cabin off the grid and away from all civilization. But, I don’t think I would do well without electricity, running water, or access to the Internet. As I get older, I also realize I wouldn’t do well without her people to keep me sane.

I get a lot of human interaction at my job. I like my coworkers and find myself able to have some philosophical conversations regularly. I am lucky enough to work with people I could hang out with and have.

But, there are no guarantees. So it needs to be put into a system.

Plugging it into the system

I only have one task devoted to this right now. I allow myself — may, force myself — to spend 20 minutes on social media. No more, no less.

You’d be surprised what you can accomplish on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms if you spend a focused 20 minutes on them. By focused, I mean I am going to these places to interact with other people. I am not clicking on link bait, playing games, or reloading the page.

I’m using sorted lists and hashtags to seek the people I want to interact with, then interacting.

My online friends might not like being an item on my to do list, but it is working for me.

My 20 minutes immediately follows cooking dinner. I post pictures of what I cook on Instagram. It makes a natural segue into using social media. As soon as I’m done eating, I can post my picture and jump into the other aspects of social media. Most nights, this falls between 7:30 PM and 8:00 PM. But, it is included in a two-hour chunk of time devoted to dinner.

The Upper Level: Mental Expansion

You’ve got the glow!

The last two levels of the pyramid are self-esteem and self-=transcendence. Be okay with yourself but still work towards becoming a Super Sayan.

This is the hardest aspect of the hierarchy to systematize. How do you create a daily task that lets you build self-esteem? It seems easier to accomplish the top level of the pyramid. I can improve myself by learning new things, exercise, and practice.

Not hating myself? Is that even possible?


Plugging it into the system

The best solution to self-esteem will be letting my brain purge itself on a daily basis. I build up a lot of negative emotions. Most of them come from stupid sources. I have fears that make no sense at all when you say them out loud. Learning to face them and voice them should help me overcome them.

Dealing my self-esteem gives me one task: journalling.

Journalling has always been hard for me. I like having journals but I don’t like writing in them. I think some narcissistic part of me hates writing something no one else will read. I have lessened my burden by re-framing the process in my brain. I have scheduled a block of time from 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM in which I write a blog post. Every day. There is no filter on the topic and I don’t stress about making them good.

I’m only posting blog posts three times a week, so more than half of the things I’m writing will never see the light of day. Something about re-framing as a blog post changes the way my mind approaches doing it. I am not putting these thoughts onto paper for me, I’m putting these thoughts onto paper hoping to help someone else.

All of these things leave me with 90 minutes to work on self-progress. I have things I want to do and promises I need to keep. The last 90 minutes of every day is where I focus on those things. These 90 minutes are dedicated to writing one scene in my current work in progress then using whatever time remains to take an online course.

The writing is top priority, so if I’m in the zone all right the entire 90 minutes. If I don’t finish a scene, I will keep going until I do or it becomes tomorrow. I need six hours of sleep, so midnight is a hard deadline.

My writing has been slow, but by letting myself know I only have to write one scene I don’t procrastinate. My addiction to online classes also helps. I get to take more of a class as a reward for being a good boy and getting my writing done.

I’ve been experimenting with this system the last couple of weeks and it seems to work.

Adding in the robots

Now I have all the tasks figured out and the timeline established, I’m ready to have robots dictate my actions.

I could keep all of this information on a pen and paper agenda, but I know me. If I am required to keep track of what time it is and what I’m supposed to be doing, I’m gonna take a nap on my couch while YouTube videos of people cooking junk food are playing.

I don’t have to do this work. We live in a miraculous age known as “the future.” I have a magical box in my pocket. The magical box has access to all the world’s knowledge and some useful tiny robots.

I let the robots do the hard work. All I had to do was figure out the best apps for me to use.

My three apps

I accomplish all of this with only three apps. Since I’m not a pretentious douche bag, sellout, or person with more money than patients, I do not use Apple products. These apps are probably available on the iStore, but I don’t know for sure. They are available in Google Play.

Clean House

I spent a fair amount of time choosing from the hundreds of chore and to do list applications available on Google Play. All of them I looked at were good and most of them have the same functionality. I went with Clean House because it seemed like the most minimalist interface.

I’m using the free version which has added support. The ads are smashed down at the bottom of the application and I don’t even notice them.

I think the premium version also has prebuilt chore lists, but I don’t need those. I’m using a system from a website based on a Tumblr account.

What I like about this app is I can plug in a chore — say, taking out the trash — and assigning how often it should pop back up again. It is very much like recurring tasks in Outlook. I don’t need to take out my trash every day. I live alone. I don’t generate that much garbage. So, I can tell Clean House to add it to my to do list every three days. It shuffles the task back into my to do list based on when I did it last. A very handy feature.

It also let me mark something as “skip until next time.” This means if “take out the trash” comes up but the trash is empty, I can bounce ahead without cheating and marking it complete. A tiny difference, but one that means something as a person who likes counting widgets.

Google Calendar

24 hours a day, all of them scheduled in Google Calendar. This is straightforward and you could use any calendar or schedule app to do this.

I block out the time I want to devote to things, put it in the up, and wait for the reminder to pop up in my phone and demand I take action.

Simple. Brainless. Perfect.

Out of Milk

Out of Milk isn’t part of my system, per se. If you aren’t familiar, it is a shopping list application. I like it. It is easy to use, I can plug in prices, and it will sync across different devices.

It buys me peace of mind. If I need something, I put in Out of Milk. If I don’t, I will forget about it.

It’s hard to make sure you’re taking out the trash if you don’t have trash bags.

It also lets me sort my shopping list by store. A handy feature because I can never remember what I can get at the Dollar Tree and what I don’t want to buy from the Dollar Tree.

Side note: Do not buy aluminum foil from the Dollar Tree unless you are using it for crafts. Is very thin and tears very easily when you are scooping potatoes from.

I like being able to push something out of my mind. This lets me do that.

The system continues to evolve

I’ve only been using my system for two weeks. I don’t know how well it will work long-term. It will continue to evolve and improve.

I have too many things I want to accomplish to let myself stagnate. I believe in the power of inertia. I’ve been held back by the first part, an object at rest tends to stay at rest. I’m ready to harness the second part, an object in motion tends to stay in motion.

I believe my system will work as long as I keep myself in motion.

At least until I get that robot-body upgrade.

Author’s Note

“But, Matt,” I imagine you are saying. “What does this have to do with being a Fat Guy?

Nothing directly.

I think of Fat Guy as my lifestyle. Fat Guy Friday is about embracing my entire approach to life and redefining the rules for me. One of the reasons I became invested in fashion and food was the underlying belief something was wrong with me because I’m a fat guy.

I don’t think there is and I want to prove it.

During my first year as a blogger, I coined the term “Professional Adult.” I used it as a tagline and a hashtag on social media. It was an inside joke. Basically, “I’m not an adult, but I play one on the internet.”

Fat Guy Friday is an extension of that core concept. I am a fat guy, but that doesn’t mean I’m an unhealthy slob or hyperactive clown.

I care about self-improvement.

My system is part of my journey. It is part of growing beyond my own limiting beliefs.

I’m reclaiming what it means to be a fat guy. This is one more piece of the puzzle.

Next week, I’ll be back to talking about clothes and food. But, I needed this to be part of the conversation.

It helps me and I hope it helps you.

2 thoughts on “Building a System for Improvement

  1. Judy Hudgins says:

    As of May 5 I will be foot loose and fancy free! As in no longer working a part-time job and being a full-time chief bottlewasher /cook/babysitter. In between will have more time for social outlets. Let’s meet up for a chat sometime!

    1. We should do that! After May 1st, my life should get less hectic, too.

Comments are closed.

Previous article

Vincent Solomon Progress Report #2

Next article

Why The Doodles Have Returned