Sunday, December 13, 2009

Engineering your life

So I had a conversation with my dad this morning. He's in the US for work for a little bit. A topic that came up, was what I've been doing with my life lately. I guess as I'm getting closer to being 30, it's a topic that comes up with more frequency, at least more so internally.

Funny enough two words come to mind. Balance and engineering. Even though I have an engineer in my title, I don't consider myself in the same league of engineering as my dad or my brother. That being said I never really thought what engineering was all about. A professor I was listening to put it this way: It's not about perfection, it's about getting the most out of what you've got. In other words, achieving a result given many constraints.

What does balance have to do with this? Balance is probably the word used when describing how one engineers their life. Everyone's balance is different but it's the maintainable, yet flexible mix that I'm discussing here. If you were the CEO of your life (which funny enough, many people don't act like they were), what are the big problems you'd be trying to solve? Are they worth solving? What would things look like when you solved them? Would you even recognize it when you solved the problem? Are they big enough for you? No insightful thought here, most of this comes from the CARVER decision making matrix used in the military.

As the year is drawing to a close, it's probably worth highlighting some items I've tried to engineer a bit while keeping in mind that my ultimate goal is getting the most out of what I've got. And again my usual disclaimer, this is less insight and more just personal observation. The motivation for writing this is because I had a few friends ask for some thought around this topic.

Sleep. I bought a Zeo and use it every night. 5 months later, I have gathered enough data on my light, deep, and REM sleep cycles to know what is a reasonable amount of sleep. It's a light headband that wirelessly transmits my sleep patterns to an alarm clock-like device. Why is this important? Because between sleep and food, I feel that these are two areas that have some of the highest ROI for time/money spent on it. If I can get really good sleep, and make it repeatable, I've dealt myself a better hand for tomorrow. How will I know I got really good sleep? The Zeo tells me. Obviously I can feel it, but now with the Zeo I can game the system a bit. There are things that I can do before sleeping that will make 7 hours almost as good as 8 hours. Not only is that engineering, that's changing the game. Everything else I do that next day will likely be better.

Second part is eating well. Everyone thinks I eat a lot. I eat frequently, but not a large quantity. Why? Because that means I have more money to spend on higher quality food. What boggles my mind is that people think that if they eat nutritionally meager, poorly executed food, they'll be able to perform at a different quality level than the fuel they just consumed. My proposal is this, cook for yourself more often, buy local foods. Take responsibility for what you eat. There are absolutely nights where I don't want to cook for myself, but most nights I still do, even though I've either worked at the restaurant, or did multiple presentations. Learn a few basic cooking skills, and use them frequently. The whole "foodie" movement boggles me too. Anything that goes in your mouth, you should probable be knowledgeable about and involved with. Just saying. To have to label interest in such a fundamental part of living? What's next, the "Life-ist" who is really into living life well?

Why am I so hung up on these fundamentals still? Because they remain the highest returning areas of my life. And I believe most people have the time, to dedicate some effort to improving them. There are few people I consider truly "busy" and I am not one of them. It's just a state of mind. Productive yes, busy no.