Redesigning Life

Reading Tim Ferriss’ The Four-Hour Work Week changed my life. Or, at least, changed my perspectives which had me re-evaluate my life. It introduced me to the idea of Lifestyle Design, which is a concept defined and popularised by Ferriss. According to www.dictionary.sensagent.com, “lifestyle design is the design of one’s ideal lifestyle, especially an unconventional one, providing good opportunities for personal growth, leisure, and adventure. Detailed methods include career planning, entrepreneurship, and travel.

In the book, Ferriss shares how he restructured his life to be able to do the things that we often talk about doing ‘when we retire’ and shared examples of how others have done the same. What I took from the book was that I have the choice when it comes to what I do with my time, even with the responsibilities, goals, and dreams that I have.

Life on the hamster wheel

How easy it is to get caught in the spinning wheel, all the while convinced that you are working and moving towards something. At the time, of my first read, I was the editor of men’s magazine Destiny Man.

I was giving editorial direction for each issue, I was doing interviews, research and writing articles.

I was keeping up with what was going on with the team and dealing with office politics in an environment that lacked strong leadership.

I was going to sales and pitch meetings with clients. I was my own assistant managing – poorly – my schedule.

I was attending launches and events.

I was hosting magazine events.

I was travelling regularly on press trips – I have been to Germany for a night and in New York for a total of 40 hours.

And, somewhere, in between all of this, I was being a husband, a father and a son, also quite poorly.

I had also turned 40 in this time, which came with its own pressures. For one, I felt that time was running out, especially in terms of being able to provide for my family, financially. I was running hard. Something had to give. And it did. A few weeks after my 42nd birthday, I ended up in the emergency room at 04:00 with chest pains; fortunately, no heart attack.

That was my extended moment. It did take a few months, but I resigned from my job. I was living a parallel life to my family, never really present, always working, including on weekends, rarely around. To my daughter, I was the guy who took them to school in the mornings and, when she started talking, she would whisper to my wife “I don’t like him.”

So, I resigned. I didn’t have anything lined up but knew that it was time if I actually wanted to live a life off the hamster wheel. I had a company I had registered with a friend. My employer also wanted us to look at a way of my staying on while still working on my own projects and having time for my family. The proposal did not make sense, so I turned it down.

What I knew was that I needed to be there for my family. I also knew, having read the Four-Hour Work Week, that it is possible to find the harmony between work, family and self. I started planning life weekly with this in mind. For the first two months, my family did not know what to do with me. The children would come home from school and I would be there, often only coming out of the shower midday.

How many hours do you work?

Lifestyle design, for me, is being able to give the different parts of your daily life. Work has, traditionally, been the dimension we give most of our time and attention to. If you are going to a place for 8 hours a day, getting home around 18h00, you really only have two to three hours for time with your family. I have always worked or spent time on leisure activities I enjoy – reading, watching telly – after my family has gone to bed. On a weekly basis, that doesn’t really add up to much time for yourself or your family.

In a UK study by www.vouchercloud.com, respondents estimated that they spend 2 hours and 53 minutes actually productive during work hours: Office Worker Productivity. For the rest of the time, the top 10 distractions were:

  1. Checking social media – 47%
  2. Reading news websites – 45%
  3. Discussing out of work activities with colleagues – 38%
  4. Making hot drinks – 31%
  5. Smoking breaks – 28%
  6. Text/instant messaging – 27%
  7. Eating snacks – 25%
  8. Making food in office – 24%
  9. Making calls to partner/ friends- 24%
  10. Searching for new jobs – 19%

Even if we are productive for half of our work hours, there are still four hours where we are not. Shifting from working for a company and back to working for myself – which I have done for most of my life – has forced me to think about this a lot. Who says one has to work and be productive, for 8 hours a day? Incidentally, the 8-hour workday came from Welsh textile manufacturer Robert Owen, who implemented it at his New Lanark, Scotland, textile mill in 1810. He also coined the phrase, “eight hours’ labour, eight hours’ recreation, eight hours’ rest.” We continue to see something created during the Industrial Revolution over 200 years ago as the optimal hours to work daily.

Can one not rather focus on being as efficient and productive as possible in three or four hours thereby giving oneself the remaining hours to focus on other aspects of life?

This is what designing your life means. For me.

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