A gift for my daughter

Books are a big part of my life. I read over 30 a year.

When I was young, I would read a lot. I used to love reading Enid Blyton’s ‘The Faraway Tree’ books. When I was a teenager, I couldn’t get enough of the Christopher Pike and John Grisham books.

As I got into my twenties, my focus shifted to non-fiction. Mostly entrepreneur biographies, business, leadership and general lifestyle improvement topics. That continued into my thirties, with a slight shift towards lifestyle improvement books. I’m also starting to get back into nonfiction. At the moment, I’m hooked on anything by John Sandford.

Reading books and blog posts, and listening to audio programmes and podcasts have been such a big influence on my life. It’s more than just consuming information. It’s about wanting to be the best version of myself, and being open to learning and growing.

I’ve been thinking lately about how to pass some of this onto my daughter Fearne.

One idea I had, was to create a box of books that have had a big influence in my life. I thought it would be cool to include a small note in each one too – explaining why I chose it. And then give it to her when she is old enough to find them useful.

It made me reflect on some of the books that might be in that box.

How to Win Friends and Influence People is just incredible and is still my all-time favorite book. Life lessons for how to deal with people, that stretch over personal and business life.

When Breath Becomes Air is a shocking wake up call for what’s important in life and a reminder of mortality. It made me think very differently about life priorities and decisions.

80,000 hours is a career advice book I wish I had access to when I was 18. Awesome advice for how to do high impact, meaningful work that will make you happy.

The Millionaire Next Door is required reading to have the right attitude and mindset around money and being wealthy. I try and live to these principles.

The Alchemist is just an awesome read. A great story and many subtle life lessons. It made me appreciate that you can’t map everything out. You have to get comfortable with taking risks and have faith in small steps. Often, things happen for a reason and most decisions, even big ones can be reversed of pivoted.

Deep Work and Daily Rituals between them, share what it takes to do meaningful, high impact work. Everything around routines, time allocation, the right environment, focus etc.

I’ve also read a few blog posts I think are profound. For example, I’d like to include something about why it’s important to get good at writing. I’ve read a few really good books on how to write, but they don’t quite feel right. But, I remember a great blog post or two which it might be nice to include.

I’m going to think about this over the next few weeks and decide if and how to action it.

I’m curious. Has anyone else done anything like this or have any good advice for how to share life changing books with your children?


Being self critical: My biggest strength and weakness

It took a recent crossfit session to remind me of my biggest strength, but also my biggest weakness – being self critical.

We had to pick two movements that we hated and sucked at. I went with thrusters and kipping pull ups. We practiced them throughout the session and used them in the workout at the end.

6 thrusters, followed by 6 kipping pull ups – repeated for as many reps as possible in 20 mins.

Pretty tough. I found the movements awkward throughout. As I was driving home after the workout, here’s what played through my head:

Thrusters felt super awkward:

  • Picking the bar from the floor isn’t so bad. But, getting the bar into the front squat position is hard on my wrists. I can’t get my elbows higher enough either. Need to work on wrist flexibility in general.
  • The front squat part of the movement is OK, but the transition from top of the squat to overhead press is super awkward. Hard and painful on the wrists. Wrist flexibility again.
  • Overhead press is OK. I got pretty good strength there
  • Transition from bringing the bar down from the press into a front squat is horrible. I have to reset the bar on my shoulders to avoid too much wrist pain. Then I have to adjust my grip before I squat. Pretty painful. Wrist strength and flexibility again.
  • Overall, quite a few awkward bits in the movement. The transition from front squat to press, and back to front squat, was awkward and jerky.
  • I was using 35KG. Not heavy enough. I want to be using 50KG in wods.

Kipping pull ups felt even more awkward:

  • I need to get momentum with the swing (hollow body hold to superman) before I start the kipping pull ups. This slows me down in a workout. Some of that is because it allows me to make the first rep a good one. And that gives me more chance of getting the second and third rep right. Some of it is habit. I need to force myself to jump onto the bar and go straight into a kipping pull up. Need to work on that.
  • The pull up part of the movement is actually OK. But, I struggle to fall into the right position, that then lets me flow into another pull up. So, I tend to be able to pull off a second rep, but hardly ever a third. Unless I get the falling motion right, I won’t be able to pull off 5+ reps and use them in workouts.
  • I got tired super quick. The first few rounds I could get 3 + 2 + 1. But, after 4 or 5 rounds, I was pretty much doing 2 + 2 + 2 and then finally 2 + 2 + 1 + 1.
  • I keep ripping skin on the palm of my hands. Super annoying.

On top of the above, there was a girl next to me focusing on the same two movements. She was nailing 50KG thrusters and sets of 8 or 10 kipping pull ups. It made me realise how far I have to go.

The above was running through my head the whole way home. I started plotting priorities for how I can get better, stronger thrusters and kipping pull ups. I started to feel overwhelmed and a bit annoyed that I was so weak and behind the curve.

And then, something clicked and I got another perspective.

Six weeks ago, I couldn’t even go to crossfit. I had to take two months off because of tendonitis in my foot. That was super annoying and I was very frustrated.

Here I am actually able to go to crossfit and push myself. This wasn’t possible six weeks ago. I’m doing thrusters and kipping pull ups in a WOD. I’m pushing myself hard. I made some good improvement in the thruster transitions. I also made progress with the kipping pull ups falling movement. I’m absolutely better at those movements from when I walked into the gym an hour before. I’m clearer on the one or two things I need to focus on to be better at them.

That’s actually a good position to be in.

Yet, I beat myself up for all the small things I could be doing better. I beat myself up for being behind the curve compared to other people. I completely lose sight of appreciating that I AM moving forward and getting better – one step at a time.

It’s just one example of how being self critical on myself stops me appreciating the progress I’m making. I do this at work and almost every category of my life by default.

Being self critical and beating myself up like this might be my biggest strength. It drives me to get better and improve. But, it often means I don’t appreciate the progress I am making. It stops me being happy with where I am, and appreciating the present moment.

The key takeaway I have is to be OK with this self critical behaviour. It’s a strength, but I need to keep perspective too. Let it happen, but pull back from it and focus on the few things I can do to move forward – and just do them. And then spend time on appreciating the progress I’ve made and where I am today. Be OK with where I am. Relax and appreciate the present moment a bit more.


When No One is Looking

This is embarrassing, but here it goes. I have a massive man crush on Mat Fraser.

It started when I watched Fittest on Earth 2015. Mat placed second and stood out as an incredible athlete. He made a few mistakes and wasn’t quite the all rounder Ben Smith was.

Recently I watched Fittest on Earth: A Decade of Fitness (Crossfit Games 2016). Mat blew through the competition (including Ben Smith) to finish first. It was awesome to see Mat dominate the competition, including beating last years winner. But, I figured, sometimes it happens like that. You see the same thing with football teams. No matter the odds, sometimes you get an upset. Maybe he should have won in 2015? Or maybe 2016 was a fluke?

Today I stumbled on the ‘Mat Fraser – Making a Champion’ documentary series. And it all made sense. Mat is an absolute machine and he has the most amazing attitude and work ethic.

Placing second in 2015 was obviously painful for him. In his own words:

I look at my medal from 2015. I hate that fucking medal. Because I didn’t do it right, you know? That’s like second place. I got second place in 2015. I should be proud of that result. I was the second fittest man in the world. But I just look at that and I’m like…. I fucking hate that year, because I’m not proud of the effort I put in. I’m not proud of the corners I cut.

He went about 2016 completely different. He looked at everything he was weak at and did whatever it took to get better. This is a great example:

Alright, I suck at rowing. So I got a rower. And I rowed between 4K and 5K a day for a whole year.

Every day, he just put the work in. He kept stacking the days, with the faith it would make him stronger for next year’s competition. It’s pure discipline. Another good quote from Mat that sums up his attitude:

I’m gonna do today what other people aren’t willing to. So I can do tomorrow, what other people can’t.

This one really resonated with me. It can be hard to stay motivated to consistently take small, uncomfortable steps. Particularly when many of those steps don’t give you immediate results based feedback. But as Mat says, the consistent daily efforts = long term success. It’s the moments when no one is looking that count.

I’m going to put that last quote at the top of my planning documents to remind myself of this. And when I get an urge to procrastinate or cut a corner, I am going to remember Mat and his 2016.

I actually did this today. I had planned to go on a long bike ride. A few hours before I was due to set off, I started trying to persuade myself it would be ok to skip it. I’d done enough this week already, it was a bit too hot etc.  I put the talk to one side and went out on the bike. And when I hit some steep hills, I had some shitty self talk about taking a rest and walking for a bit. I pushed through it and did the whole trip non stop – something I had never done before. And I felt great afterwards!

I encourage everyone to watch these three short videos. It doesn’t matter whether you are into fitness or not. Mat’s mindset is super impressive and inspiring.


A System for Being Productive and Happy

As you get older, you settle on things that work for you. I feel like this at the moment about goal setting and planning.

It’s been a long, and sometimes frustrating journey and I’ve tried many different things.

I spent most of my twenties using Tony Robbin’s RPM system. It’s a very rigid goal setting and planning framework. It helped me stay focused and I got results, but it didn’t make me happy. I found myself frequently re-writing goals as my priorities changed. I also felt overwhelmed most of the time.

I also tried having no goals. Leo Babauta’s Achieving Without Goals was a big influence on my thinking. It felt OK for a while and I was definitely more present, and a bit happier. But, I couldn’t shake the anxiety of feeling directionless and unproductive. The best way to describe how I felt, was ‘flat’.

Over the last year or so, I’ve settled on something in the middle. It’s really working for me. I’m happier, more focused and getting more done than I ever have. For the first time in my life, I have a good balance.

I don’t have specific goals. But, I do have a process for defining where I want to put my focus and energy. Importantly, it’s flexible so it can cope when my priorities or values change.

This influences my weekly and daily planning – in fact, it underpins it. Which surprise, surprise, I have a process I follow which is proving very effective. This planning is critical to taking control of my weeks and days.

Maybe I had to try the two extremes to end up here. I definitely had a big shift in values a few years ago and this drove me to experiment with no goals. My learnings from having no goals, helped form my thinking today.

Why am I saying all this?

I’ve been thinking about pulling it together into something other people can use. A long form article, or even a course. It’s still a raw idea at the moment, so I don’t know where I will take it.

But, what I do know, is things are great at the moment. I’m focused and super productive. I’m rarely overwhelmed. And I’m more present and happy than I’ve ever been. So, I can’t help but think people will get a lot of value by seeing how it all fits together.

Something to think about. Watch this space.


Being good with money

The topic of personal finance has been on my mind for the last few days.

I’ve been reflecting on how I invest. It hasn’t changed since I wrote Investing, Simply, one year ago. That’s a good thing, because I’ve settled on something that works, and is right for me.

I’ve also spent the last six months getting back to some basic principles for managing money. Eighteen months before that, I was self funding an app and doing a bit of consulting. I was spending more than I was earning, so I wasn’t practicing most of these principles. This changed six months ago, when I joined DIGIT and relocated to Dublin.

I figured it’s a good time to bring together my views on personal finance.

My relationship with money has changed in the last few years. I used to care mostly about being rich. My goals were to have a house worth ‘X’, own fast cars, ‘X’ money in the bank and ‘X’ net worth. Whatever it took.

I was making progress towards my financial goals, but it wasn’t making me happy. I was often stressed and frustrated. I was sacrificing my health and relationships. I panicked and realised I might reach my financial goals, but not make the most out of life.

That said, I still think money is important because it provides freedom. It’s not always obvious, until you need to use it. Some examples include.

  • Weathering economic downturns (property or industry crashes, interest rate changes etc.)
  • Deciding to take some time out to see the world
  • Starting your own business (often requires some type of self funding)
  • Unexpectedly losing your job
  • Taking an extended period of time away from work (for whatever reason you like)
  • Changing career (often requires investment into education and less income in the short-term)
  • Being able to help people
  • Falling ill and needing to take unpaid leave from work

The above are all situations we might find ourselves in – some of them our decisions, others forced upon us. Being financially secure gives you flexibility to handle them, without worrying about money.

I can deal with all the above. I might get some anxiety about moving backwards, but it won’t break me. That’s a great feeling and it’s available to anyone if you stick to some basic principles for managing money.

Below are the principles I stick to. They work for me, so maybe they can work for you:

Save by Direct Debit

Everyone knows they should do this, but most don’t. Set up a separate bank account for saving. Then, set up a direct debit from your main account into the savings account each month – preferably just after you get paid. It’s amazing how quickly you adjust to live without it.

It doesn’t matter how small it is, do whatever you can afford. What’s important is to build the habit of saving. Because it’s automated, there is no action needed from you each month. It just happens.

It’s motivating to see a cash pot grow. You’ll find it won’t take long before you’re thinking about ways to save more and grow the pot even bigger.

Since getting back to working again, we’re saving 17% of our income. Not quite the 50% I was saving when I was single and living at home rent-free. But, now I have a family, we’re on one income and the cost of living in Dublin is high. So, 17% feels a decent number for now.

Clear Debt

A no brainer. A life without debt feels great. If you have debt, make clearing it your top priority. Put every spare bit of cash you have into reducing it.

Even though it’s technically a debt, the only exception for me, would be a mortgage. This is because you’re building equity in a property, which over the long-term appreciates.

I would also suggest saving a small amount by direct debit, even if you have debt. You sacrifice some interest on the debt you choose not to pay off, but you start to build the habit of saving early. It’s well worth the tradeoff.

Know your in’s and out’s

’Run your personal finances like a business’ is a bit of a cheesy saying, but it’s true. You should know your monthly income and expenses down to the penny.

For most people, income is the easy bit, because it’s fairly predictable. Where things tend to get out of control is with outgoings.

I have mine in a spreadsheet. It starts with income, which for me is predictable because I’m on a salary. Next comes rent and utilities (gas, water, tv, broadband etc.) Then, other expenses such as groceries, dog food, petrol etc. Then comes personal spending budgets. What’s left after all that, is saved.

This means I’m rarely surprised. Everything is predictable and I’m able to save a consistent amount each month.

Set a weekly spending budget. Take it out in cash at the beginning of the week

It’s simple, and it works brilliantly. I wrote about it here – Overspending is bad and how to stop it.

Have a cash reserve

After clearing debt, I think building a cash reserve should be the highest priority – 3 months (net) salary, but preferably 6 months. This gives you peace of mind and allows you to deal with any surprises. It also gives you freedom to treat yourself from time to time. All without worrying about where the money is going to come from.

Invest

If you have no debt and a cash reserve, you need to start making your money work for you. Most people underestimate the power of compound interest. Play with this compound interest calculator to see what I mean.

As I said at the start, Investing, Simply still reflects my views on investing. I ended up selling the Woodford funds. I now have everything in low fee indexes (half in S&P 500 and half in FTSE all-share) and I max out my ISA allowance. I have a long-term view (10+ years) and plan to keep adding to them as often as I can.

Be Frugal

I’m convinced being frugal in your 20’s and 30’s is one of the most important factors to getting into a solid position before you are 40. A frugal attitude = a high savings rate = more savings = more to invest = more wealth. You’d be surprised what you can achieve over a period of 10-15 years. Don’t believe me? See 1500days.com or thinksaveretire.com or mrmoneymustache.com or millennial-revolution.com.

Self-Insure

I hate most types of insurance. Premiums keep increasing and insurance companies make it expensive and hard to claim. Feels like a racket to me.

I prefer to self-insure. Instead of having insurance policies, I just draw from a cash reserve when I need to pay for something. Obviously this doesn’t include insurance you have a legal obligation to have (car). Also, if you have a mortgage, I think life insurance for that amount is a smart move.

By the way, I have no idea if this is the best financial approach. I just have this gut feeling that I will be better off dealing with things when they come up. I also hate the process of signing up, renewing and finding competitive quotes etc.

Avoid fast cars

I hate giving this advice, because I love cars. But, I’ve owned a few fast cars and they are a drain. Oddly, I don’t regret them (other than the BMW I bought with a personal loan when I was 20!).

For the last ten years, each car I owned, I have bought outright. I also knew what I was getting into when I bought the fast ones (maintenance and depreciation). They were fun, but they burned a big hole in my pocket.

For the last few years, I’ve got more sensible. I own an 2010 Audi A3 TDI S Line. Looks nice and is super economical. Much smarter.

Some further reading

I’ve read some great books on personal finance in the last few years. Much of it has shaped my current views. Here are some of the main ones:

As I warned at the start of this post, the above is simply what is working for me. They fit with my lifestyle, attitude to life and how I think about risk. I tend to be fairly risk adverse, so the above views tend to fit with that.

If you have any questions or different ways of doing things, I would love to hear them.