building your personal system, brick by brick

a few weeks ago i wrote a two-post series on learning through your life: how to make the most of the startup that is your life and why running your life like a startup will help you get where you want to go faster. this is sort of a spin-off of those two pieces that was inspired by a coaching session with my friend, katherine.

the main message is this: it takes a long time to build a good personal system and it happens piece by piece.  

the lesson is most clearly demonstrated with a story. i know my own better than any other so i’ll start there. this isn’t the whole thing, but it’s some of the important lessons:

experiment 1: sometimes i feel socially burnt out. how do i remedy that?
[do several weeks of experimentation with varied number of social meetings per week (2 one week, 10 the next, 5 the next, etc.) and observe my well-being]
lesson 1: do no more than two social meetings per day, absolutely no more than one per evening, and no more than five per week.

experiment 2: lesson 1 means i don’t see my close friends enough. how do i fix that?
[talk with several close friends and discuss how to see each other regularly]
lesson 2: close friends don’t count as social meetings (lesson 1). schedule standing, bi-weekly sessions (dinner, walks, tea, virtual chats, etc.) with close friends. regularity helps a lot.

experiment 3: i spend too much money on food. how can i spend less money on food?
[insert several weeks of experimentation with making food, buying meals, fasting, etc.]
lesson 3: cook three dinner meals over the weekend. eat one. save the other two. eat dinners i prepared over the weekend on evenings that don’t have standing friend dates or other social meetings.

experiment 4… etc. etc.

as i write this, i realize i haven’t ever written down all my experiments, but there are a lot of them. and, as with all things of this nature, the point isn’t the lessons; the point is that everyone needs to experiment and figure out what works for them. gretchen rubin said in her interview on design matters that no technique or strategy works for everyone, but everyone has something that works for them. the trick is to figure out what that is.

frankly, one’s personal system will never be perfect because things are always changing. change can happen in your life phase, in work, in your location (residence, city, country, region), in the culture, in technology, and on and on. and still, the value gained from having a functional personal system is limitless. i’m constantly tweaking my system and i think it’s getting better and better.

brick by brick will your personal system be built and no one’s gonna build it if you don’t. so why not start building now?