Category Archives: Productivity

Gray Time

I’m working on a task management app called Momentum and we just implemented a thing we’re calling “gray time”. This is what we call all those tasks we need to do just to keep things going, but they aren’t the most important things. At home, I need to make dinner, go grocery shopping, etc, but the two things I want to get really right in my personal life this year is to lose some body fat and publish a book. In my work, Momentum is the most important thing I am doing.

I know that a big part of my day could be gray. The goal is to get some non-gray time too. If I want to make progress on my most important goals, I have to make sure to acknowledge that everything else is gray.

Sometimes this hurts. I spent a lot of time yesterday working on little tasks—a bunch of them are meaningful to my happiness, like planning a trip and helping my produce my wife’s radio show. It’s not that I didn’t want to do them or that I’m not glad I did, but marking that time as gray makes sure I don’t stuff my day with too many of these tasks at the expense of the main things I am trying to do.

Win the Week

I use weekly metrics to reach bigger goals. I love this because I get to reset every week. If I fail one week, I haven’t derailed my entire progress, I just reassess and get back on track Monday. Sometimes when I have nothing to do on a Sunday, I try to win the week by catching up.

But, just like in Win the Morning, I try to front-load successes, so Monday is a big day for me. I try to make a lot of progress on my weekly metric. Today is Sunday, the end of the week for me, and I only have a little more to go on my main fitness goal, which will be easy. This is possible because from Monday to Wednesday, I did a lot. Since I actually do have a lot of time today, and my goal is walking, I’m set to overachieve for the week.

My work goals need to be finished up by Friday, so I make sure to never having meetings Monday and Tuesday unless it’s impossible otherwise. I try to book everything for Friday afternoon, where I’ll be trying to wind down anyway, and not looking to do a lot of focussed work.

I was never this way when I was younger. I was always procrastinating and cramming, which was especially bad in college. I got through it, but with a lot of unnecessary stress. After decades of tinkering, I hacked it so that procrastinating is something that happens at a weekly cadence, if it happens at all. By booking away the end of the week, I don’t give myself time to cram, so I have to get to it.

Double Down on Things that Work for You

At the end of January, I realized that the actions I decided to take for my fitness goals weren’t working, so I decided to add more light-impact cardio.

So, it appears that for me, I might need more cardio. From my research, I know that this may inhibit muscle growth, but that effect is because of calorie deficit. So, I will add more cardio (but low stress activities like swimming, rowing, and the elliptical) and I need to find a good healthy source of extra calories

Right after I wrote that, I realized that more walking might also help and was very easy to fit into my days. It’s only been two weeks, but the effect was obvious enough that I decided to do much more walking than I planned.

I started with a daily goal of 12,500 total steps, but now I get over 20k most days. The extra walking is hundreds of calories, which I eat because I am trying to build muscle.

To get this many steps, I have added the following practices:

  1. Almost all of my reading or video watching is on a treadmill. I don’t need to make time for this. I do it in whatever clothes I’m wearing and keep it at a slow enough pace.
  2. Almost all podcast listening has to be done on an outside walk.
  3. If I have to walk somewhere, I leave a little early and add at least 10 minutes more walking each way.
  4. I installed Pedometer++ on my iPhone/Watch and use their widgets as my scoreboard. My current steps is in a complication I see all day.
  5. I try to get close to 10,000 steps in the morning (to win the morning).

20k might unsustainable long term, but I always dedicate the first thirteen weeks of the year to try to make big changes in my life so I can see what the impact would be. Then, I size it to something I can keep on doing.

Win the Morning

Using The Four Disciplines of Execution, I am trying to reach my goals by “playing a winnable game”. The strategy is to develop a lead measure that you can act on at any time (see 4DX: Applying the Second Discipline). But, I find that I win this game more often if I act in the morning.

For fitness, I am doing more strength workouts, incorporating long walks into my day, and eating a healthy high-protein breakfast. I work out at around 7am and eat breakfast soon afterwards, so this is usually done by 9. If I get up early enough, I do a long walk to the gym.

My other two goals have dedicated time allocated to them. I front-load that as much as possible, and move anything that could be distracting to late in the day (especially meetings). I want to work on the important tasks when I have the most energy for them.

According to When by Daniel Pink, for most people, the morning is good for deep work and the afternoon is better for collaboration and ideation. I am clearly one of the “most”, because this works well for me.

4 Week 4DX Checkin

I’m using techniques from The Four Disciplines of Execution (4DX) this year to help me reach my important goals. I documented my setup process in these posts:

  1. 4DX: Applying the First Discipline
  2. 4DX: Applying the Second Discipline
  3. 4DX: Applying the Third Discipline
  4. 4DX: Applying the Fourth Discipline

The gist is that you (1) identify an important goal (2) design and act on lead measures — things you control that you can do at any time that will add up to that goal (3) create a compelling scoreboard and (4) have regular accountability.

I chose to have 3 goals in 3 separate areas of my life that have segregated time. The book stresses having only one goal, because they are imagining that you apply this to work—I do have only one work goal.

For my work and personal growth goals, I have done my lead measures at or more than the level I wanted and I am making progress. Things seem to be going fine there.

For my fitness goal, I am doing what I set out to do, but I am not seeing progress, so it’s time to rethink if my lead measures are right. In my case, I think they are generally good things to do, so I will keep doing them, but they are obviously not enough.

In 4DX, we are supposed to periodically make sure our lead measures are taking us where we want to go. So, I want to share my thinking. The point is not my specific fitness goals or process—if you disagree with my fitness approach, that’s fine—the point is that I am trying to incorporate new knowledge and try something else.

Here’s my thinking:

My fitness goal is to reduce body fat with the lead measures of strength training and higher protein breakfasts. The result so far is that I am getting stronger (can do more pullups, lift more), but my body fat % hasn’t changed at all. My weight also hasn’t changed, but I am ok with that. I have been using a body fat scale since 2019, so I looked at my history, and I see that my lowest body fat % was when I was doing the most running. This is frustrating.

I chose to lower the amount of running I do because I am trying to avoid knee problems. I don’t have any now, and I want to keep it that way. During my lowest body fat periods, I was training for half and full marathons, which I am not planning to ever do again.

So, it appears that for me, I might need more cardio. From my research, I know that this may inhibit muscle growth, but that effect is because of calorie deficit. So, I will add more cardio (but low stress activities like swimming, rowing, and the elliptical) and I need to find a good healthy source of extra calories. I hate to rely on protein shakes, but that will be part of it. I have also seen some research that would indicate that I should substitute whole starches for tofu and tempeh because of their high fat content.

So, my breakfast will have fewer tofu scrambles with tempeh bacon and I’ll have to come up with a bean/quinoa breakfast. I also make an egg substitute from mung beans that has better macros than Just Egg, which I’ve been having a lot of. I will also cut bread as much as I can—mostly this is a problem because I use plant burgers as an easy lunch—I’ll just have to have it with no bun.

So, my new lead measures are to keep the strength workouts, add three 30+ minute low-stress cardio workouts, and keep the breakfast, but lean more on beans/quinoa/mung beans and less on tofu and tempeh, and skip the bread as much as I can. I will need more calories, but I will find them in whole starches.

In any case, don’t let my fitness choices distract you. The point is to periodically look at your desired lag measures for your goal and make sure your lead measures are moving towards it. It’s not something you can see every day, but I think four weeks is enough.

Making Time

You can say that you find time to do something or take time to do something, but I like saying I make time to do something.

Time, of course, can’t be made, so it’s magic if you do it.

4DX: Applying the Fourth Discipline

See 4DX: Applying the Third Discipline to get a summary of the WIGs and Lead Measures.

The final discipline is to have weekly accountability meetings that are only about 4DX, the WIG, the lead measures and how to do better in the coming week.

This is hard because I mostly work alone. I do a weekly retrospective, so I mostly need to just make sure I always review my scoreboard from the 3rd discipline.

For my fitness goal, I go to Crossfit which puts me in a room with several coaches and peers. I track my lifts in the gym’s app, which I share. If I stumble with this goal, I may add more direct accountability.

For my work goal, I have a partner and we already have weekly status meetings. They are not 4DX specific, so again, if this goal is not reached by March 31, then I may ask for 4DX meetings.

For my personal growth goal, I have decided to share my progress in a weekly podcast. I just joined the Useful Books community in order to meet like-minded people and perhaps join an accountability group.

For all three of my WIGs, I am not yet really doing the fourth discipline correctly, but I will try to move towards that as I progress.

4DX: Applying the Third Discipline


Now we have Wildly Important Goals (WIGs) and Lead Measures to act on.

  1. Work: Get to no launch blockers in the product by March 31 by spending 4 hours per week on them
  2. Fitness: Go from 23% body fat to under 20% by December 31 by doing 4 strength workouts per week and having 5 high-protein breakfasts per week.
  3. Personal Growth: Publish two 50-page books by December 31 by working on them 5 days per week for at least one hour per day.

The third discipline is to build a compelling scoreboard. The idea is that it’s like a scoreboard in any sport—you can look at it and instantly see if you are winning.

The trick is to build a player’s scoreboard and not a coach’s one. In basketball, a coach would have free-throw percentages, blocks, assists, and many useful pieces of data. The player has points and fouls and little else. Player’s need signals to help them make quick decisions, not tons of data to analyze. While we’re working, we’re players, and we need to know if we’re winning at a glance. The other data is collected and we (or our managers/coaches) might analyze them, but we don’t need to see it all of the time. We always need to know the score and whether we’re winning.

To keep this simple, I decided to dedicate a page on my journal to the first 13 weeks. I have 13 rows (one for each week) and then columns for each lead measure. I just need to put an X in the column when I do it. I can see my current week and compare it to the past. I’ll make a new grid every 13 weeks.

A page from a journal showing the WIG / Lead Measure scoreboard for 13 weeks.

I also track in software. Since I use an Apple Watch, I just start a Strength Workout on it right before I start to lift. The data shows up in many fitness apps I use daily. For the other two WIGs, I am using personal productivity software I am developing. I like the combo of paper and software. The software keeps it in my face when I am at my computer and my journal is always around when I’m not.

4DX: Applying the Second Discipline

The second discipline of The Four Disciplines of Execution is to act on lead measures to accomplish the Wildly Important Goal (WIG). I defined my three WIGs yesterday

  1. Work: no launch blockers in the product by March 31, 2024
  2. Fitness: Go from 23% body fat to under 20% body fat by December 31, 2024.
  3. Personal Growth: Write two 50-page books and put them up for sale by the end of 2024.

For each of those, I have inherently expressed them in a way that defines a “lag” measure. On March 31, I will have launch blockers or not, but there will be nothing I can do on that day to change it. Each day, I will go on my scale and see my body fat %, but I will not really be able to do something that directly affects that in the short term.

4DX asks us to define lead measures that are things we can do right now that will lead to us accomplishing our lag measures. It measures our real-time activity, not the end result of the activity.

For work, it’s going to be time spent coding on launch blockers. I think I can get through the list if I spend 4+ coding hours on launch blockers per week. That might seem like too little—which is common in 4DX goals. You must accept that you still have all of the operational things you have to do. My partner and I are still experimenting, supporting early users, and possibly pivoting. I obviously need to work more than 4 hours per week on the project, but the majority of them are spent dealing with what the business needs today. My WIG is about how we get to the next level.

For fitness, I am accepting that my amount of body fat is very hard to lower (I have lowered it a lot, but have been stuck for a year), and so I am going to work on my amount of muscle mass, which means that I will do more strength training. My lead measure is to do 4 sessions of 10+ minute weight training workouts per week. It’s not 4+, because rest is important. It’s only 10 minutes, because I am working one body part fairly heavy and to failure. I am doing other workouts—these are in addition to what I am already doing, usually on the same day.

To support this, I am adding a secondary leading measure of eating a high-protein, lower carb breakfast 5 days per week. I usually eat oatmeal and fruit, which is perfectly sensible, but perhaps not supporting my WIG as well. I am not a low-carb person (quite the opposite), but I want to reduce this kind of carb. My new staple breakfast will be an egg substitute I make from soaked mung beans (similar to Just Egg) and tofu or tempeh. There is also a cafe near me that makes Just Egg omelets that I will have when I’m lazy. I might also use protein shakes, but rarely.

For my personal goal, since I am aiming for 50 page books, it might be tempting to have a weekly page count goal, but that won’t work for me because I write in drafts. Like my work goal, I think the easiest lead measure will be hours per week, so I will work on the book for at least one hour on five days per week. This will result in 5+ hours per week, but I think it’s important to have a daily practice of writing and not just do 5 hours in one day per week. It seems low, but I have other things I am doing besides this to maintain my level of output. I still want my blog and podcast to be going at the same time. The WIG is about what I can do to get to another level, not something I do instead of what I am doing now. In 6 months, that’s about 130 hours, which should be enough time to write and edit 50 pages.

You might disagree with my goals, and how I am trying to accomplish them. That’s ok, but that’s not the point. The point is that I am trying to accomplish big goals by concentrating on a process that is much more short-term and something I can definitely do (4DX calls this playing a winnable game). I will be checking in every 13 weeks to see if I am moving the lag measure, and adjust if not.

4DX: Applying the First Discipline

In yesterday’s post about The Four Disciplines of Execution, I quickly went through the disciplines and how I am applying them. Today, I want to talk more about the first one, which is to choose one “Wildly Important” goal (WIG), and my thought process as I chose mine.

The first thing to notice is that the book asks you to choose only one WIG. I may be going off script by choosing three, but I am choosing them in very different areas of my life. I have only one work-related WIG, one health WIG, and one personal growth WIG. The book is mostly about work, but I have time carved out for health and personal growth that is separate from work. I have separation between them, so I my focus on one does not affect my focus on another (at the appropriate time).

To find a WIG. The book asks you to define (1) Where you are now (2) Where you want to be, and (3) by when. It’s the same idea as SMART goals.

For work, I am working on a startup with a partner, where I am doing the technical part.

  1. Where am I now? We have an MVP, and we use it every day along with a few trusted users. We have a series of gates we want to get through to launch. Right now, it’s usable, but we’re still missing some core features.
  2. Where do I want to be? Ideally launched, with users, and with some revenue. But, that depends on a lot of factors outside of my control, so it would be hard to put a deadline on it. To make it possible for me to accomplish the goal, it needs to be expressed as something I can do without dependencies.
  3. By When? It’s not ideal for a WIG, which should be longer term, but I think this project will go through phases with different goals right now as we progress through gates. So I am doing this quarter by quarter.

So, my WIG for this is to have no launch blockers in the product by March 31, 2024. There are several features missing that make it impossible to launch today (e.g. signup, forgot password, billing). There aren’t too many of them, and it’s very doable by March. To support our experimentation and product design, there are still other things we should do, but they are not blockers. We may not launch for other reasons, but not because of basic functionality.

My health/fitness WIG is simpler because it inherently doesn’t have dependencies.

  1. Where am I now? I am happy with my level of fitness and health. I have been vegan for a few years and I can generally stay in the weight range I want to be. However, since I was obese for many years, I still have more body fat than I would like. I use a body fat scale that says it’s about 23%, which is accurate enough for my purposes.
  2. Where do I want to be? I have been stuck at this level for a while. Realistically, I could shoot for less than 20%.
  3. By when? The end of 2024.

Fitness WIG: Go from 23% body fat to under 20% body fat by December 31, 2024.

My personal growth goal is related to writing, which is the main thing I have been working on for the past 3 years.

  1. Where am I now? I write regularly in this blog, and I have a writing-themed podcast that is intentionally off-an-on. In 2013, I got a book published by Manning and I have been paid to write articles for Smashing and other places.
  2. Where do I want to be? I want to have more longer-form published work that I sell.
  3. By when? One by June 30 and another by December 31.

Personal Growth WIG: Write two 50-page books by the end of 2024 and put them up for sale.

Tomorrow, I’ll show you how I applied the 2nd discipline.