Let’s start with a quote from Jeff Bezos: “If you double the number of experiments you do per year, you’re going to double your inventiveness.”
Today, I want to look at the rest of 2022 from an experimentation lense and see if we can make our lives more Fantastic this year.
— Suggestions for Experiments. You can read the excellent article below by Rosie Leizrowice on experiments for ideas. I picked tracking all my food for a month and that was eye opening (not in a good way). My daughter took a photo at the same time every day for a month and we got some cool photos and some laughs.
— Explore. Just this week, I took a Pilates class for the first time. Let’s try new things in 2022.
— Engage. We want to live our Fantastic Life. Engage. Be present. Live now.
— Self-care. I think we all need some time alone, without our cell phone, without the tv and pressures of the world. I am backpacking solo at least once a quarter in 2022 for at least one night on the ground. Remember: Self Care is not selfish.
Experiment your way to a Fantastic Life.
Rule #12: Do Nothing in Moderation
Life is not meant to be lived in neutral. When you do the same thing every day, you create a rut that eventually becomes a trap. Start experimenting. Live boldly. Don’t let moderation hold you back.
By Rosie Leizrowice | Published January 28, 2021
‘Run experiments, place bets, say oops. Anything less is an act of self-sabotage.’ — Eliezer Yudkowsky, Inadequate Equilibria
In my last post, I wrote about why I love short-term experiments as a way to learn new stuff and stress-test existing beliefs.
As part two of that post, here’s a list of around forty ideas for one-month experiments, along with a brief summary of why they might be interesting.
Some I’ve tried myself in the past. I’ve excluded a few past experiments that weren’t all that smart or safe (such as the time I spent a month alone in a barn in the countryside. It sounds cool but it wasn’t awesome for my mental health.) Some are experiments I plan to do this year or at whatever point in the future they provide practical. Some are highly speculative and are on my ‘whenever, maybe never’ list. Some are ideas from other people I just think are cool and enjoyed reading about.
The specific measurements and frequencies are arbitrary and while I’ve edited a few to be more general, YMMV. I’ve left out the super obvious ideas, even if these can be the most useful.
#1 Do something novel each day for a month
In Moonwalking With Einstein, Joshua Foer writes that “Monotony collapses time; novelty unfolds it.” Doing new things slows down our subjective sense of time passing and disrupts ingrained patterns of thinking. If novelty isn’t inevitable at one point in time and the weeks blur together, finding a way to incorporate something new on a regular basis may change how fast the days seem to go by. This is a common suggestion if you’re struggling to be creative and need to break out of a rut.
I tried this a couple of years ago when I attempted to visit a new place in London every weekday for a month. It helped to write a page or two about each one to get a nice overview at the end.
#2 Eliminate as many small decisions as possible from your typical day for a month
While decision fatigue (also known as ego depletion) may prove to be a casualty of the replication crisis in psychology, making a lot of small decisions in areas where you don’t care what you choose or where all the options feel equivalent is annoying. Choices are bad. If I’m over-tired, preoccupied with something, or putting all my energy into one thing, I sometimes overthink otherwise straightforward decisions like which tote bag to take to the supermarket. Like the donkey starving to death between two bales of hay.
I tried this experiment a few years ago and although it got incredibly boring by the end of the month, the challenge here is to see how many decisions could go away without much impact. I found I didn’t care much about most of the small decisions I cut out.
If you’re already taxed, having good defaults whenever possible makes life easier seeing as you’re more likely to go for those (‘One of the most well‐documented heuristics in decision making is relying on a default option or preference for the status quo’).
#3 Solve a trivial inconvenience each weekday for a month
A trivial inconvenience, to paraphrase the idea from this post, is something minor that gets in your way just a bit or makes your life just a smidgeon harder. It’s too small to demand an immediate solution. But every added bit of friction makes whatever you’re doing less pleasant and the snippets of time wasted probably outweigh the effort required to find a solution.
Seeing as trivial inconveniences are everywhere and you can be sure someone on Pinterest already figured out the simple solution to your exact issue, a month is probably enough to see if there’s a noticeable effect from solving these.
#4 Do something uncomfortable you’ve been avoiding each day for a month
This idea comes from Jia Jiang’s concept of Rejection Therapy in Rejection Proof. Experiments focused on maximising the discomfort you experience seem to work well as the most uncomfortable things tend to be those with the biggest potential impact or benefit because not everyone is willing to do them. It’s also good to do things that show that nobody’s watching you, nobody cares, get over yourself. (Once a day might be a bit much. I’ve tried doing this once per week before.)
#5 Track all of your time for a month
Knowing exactly how you spend your time is fascinating.
I recently interviewed Laura Vanderkam for work (here’s a clip) and was struck by her idea that we should start from the assumption that there is time for everything, you just have to look at your week as a whole and manage priorities. A week is enough to get a picture of how you already use your time, but a month is sufficient to see if being more aware of how you spend time impacts your behaviour. I tried this experiment a couple of times back in school and it’s something I want to repeat soon.
Sometimes the constant feedback from tracking any metric is enough to lead to almost unavoidable changes in it, if that’s what you’re after. Tracking is a ubiquitous suggestion for saving money and healthy eating. So a related experiment is (#6) tracking your mood regularly which some people find useful for spotting patterns and improving self-regulation. I’ve tried doing this daily for a month and didn’t find it all that insightful (I couldn’t figure out a consistent way to quantify moods as scoring them out of 5 didn’t work), but would like to find a way to do this again.
Another similar idea is to (#7) keep a record of each instance of an unwanted habit for a month. Once again, collecting information on yourself both makes you more aware of a bigger picture. (Just beware of Goodhart’s Law.)
#8 Learn all of the standard keyboard shortcuts for your laptop in a month
Keyboard shortcuts can save a ton of time and I’m sure some people know all of the relevant ones. I certainly do not because it never feels like the particular time for learning more. So at some point I’d like to see how many I can learn in a month and how much faster it makes everyday tasks.
#7 Disable all notifications on your phone for a month
The obvious exception is any particular notifications you absolutely cannot afford to miss. Removing these for a while shows you which, if any, you need to turn back on, and whether those little dings were useful or distracting.
I turned off all my notifications for an experimental period back in 2017 and pretty much never turned them back on. When I tried to turn them back on a few months ago, I discovered that feature of my phone no longer works. Vibrate mode works, but it seems completely unable to go back to making those little dings and beeps despite me trying every possible fix I could find. Interesting. So now I turn on vibrate mode if I’m waiting for a particular call or message and that’s about it.
(However, I really don’t need them — my work-related communication is 99% via Basecamp and it’s rare that I’m having any kind of text conversation where the response time matters. I do need to try this with my laptop though because I have dozens of pop-up reminders every day.)
#8 Participate in an online community you’ve lurked in every day for a month
Participation in online communities tends to follow a 90–9–1 rule:
- 90% of users just lurk and don’t add anything new
- 9% of users contribute once in a while
- 1% of users participate all the time and produce almost all of the content.
If you get value out of a community without participating, it might be nice to add something for other people to enjoy for a short time. (See: You’re Good Enough, You’re Smart Enough, and People Would Like You.) (Applies to real-world communities too although it’s harder to lurk in those. See: Bowling Alone.)
#9 Thank someone whose work you liked or who helped you somehow or otherwise had a positive influence on you each day
Bonus points if you handwrite the thank you (see #12.)
I have a theory that the 1% of people who go around thanking people everyday kind of make the world go round. It’s hard to overstate how much impact the right thank you at the right time can have.
From an old post of mine:
‘Recognise beauty. Tell people their earrings are beautiful. Or their website. Or their handwriting. Or a single line in a book. No agenda. No expected reply. Just express your feelings when you see beauty because that’s how it spreads.’
From this thread:
‘In the last year or so I’ve tried to make an effort to email people who have had some sort of positive impact on me. I specifically choose email because to me it feels more personal than a tweet or some other equivalent.
I’ve emailed quite a few people and have been very surprised at the 100% reply rate I’ve received and in some instances, the conversations that have developed from them.
The emails are usually very short, personalised messages along the lines of “Hi X, thank you very much for Y. It had a positive impact on me because of Z. All the best”
Some of the people include small to medium sized musicians, authors, developers, and teachers.
I kind of feel like a bit of a weirdo doing it because I don’t really hear of many people who do the same. But sometimes I just genuinely want to thank a person for what they’ve contributed.’
#10 Start a conversation, or at least reply to, someone on Twitter every day
I only joined Twitter a few months ago and I’m not all that great at using it yet. However, a number of people I respect have sung the praises of Twitter as a medium for making new connections (professional, social, creative, romantic, etc.) For example:
Continuing the theme of not lurking, it seems like the best way to make those connections happen is by starting conversations.
#11 Make a contribution to a Wikipedia article each day for a month
Even if it’s a tiny contribution, like adding a new source or fixing a typo. I tried this in 2018 and the hardest part was just finding something to contribute because Wikipedia editors are so damn good.
The reason so many of these experiments are about contributing instead of lurking is that it’s crazy how many good effects can come from exposing yourself to more opportunities to connect with new people. But that’s a whole other post in itself for another day.
This experiment on hard mode is trying to contribute something to every Wikipedia article you read for a month.
#12 Write and send someone a postcard each day for a month
Snail mail is an underrated way to express gratitude, cheer someone up, show you’re thinking of them, and other nice things. I tried this a couple of years ago and loved the whole process enough to continue it for quite a while. Hunting for beautiful postcards or making them, then sitting down to write a message was always satisfying. It also made me feel more connected to people far away or who I hadn’t seen for a while.
From a post about my experience sending 10 postcards a week:
‘Slow communication forces mindfulness. Postcards are about connection for the sake of connection. The connection is the reward we seek. We’re not communicating with the aim of achieving a particular goal or alleviating a moment of boredom, or chasing attention. The exclusive aim can be delighting someone. Whatever words you write are barely even the point.
You can’t fit a lot on a postcard. The act itself is the point.
It’s easy to label any return to out-dated, inefficient technology as frivolous, hipster posing. But I think it also speaks of a desire to step away from a world where things are valued solely for their speed, efficiency, and utility. We mine the past for nostalgic relics to protest a world moving too fast.
Sending a postcard when you could send an email is a refusal to let all our communication be nothing more pixels on a screen. An email is easy to delete. A text or message is easy to ignore. Sending a text or email takes seconds and it’s something you can do anywhere at any time. Postcards are a gesture of gratitude and an expression of the desire for connection.’
#13 Reach inbox zero every weeknight for a month
I get it. Inbox zero is no longer cool. If you’re already good at answering emails and other messages on time, emptying everything every day is probably unnecessary. It just creates more work. You know what happens when you send emails? People reply to them. Then you have more emails.
Seeing as I often overthink responses and end up sending over-long emails, I’d like to try the experiment of clearing my inboxes every weeknight for a month. Maybe it would result in better email-related habits and less fear of saying the wrong thing.
#14 Batch ‘maintenance’ type tasks on one day each week
I picked up this idea when reading Chris Bailey’s The Productivity Project. In a blog post on the topic, he writes:
‘I have a Sunday ritual called “maintenance day”. On maintenance day, I lump all of the boring tasks that most people do throughout the week into one solid block of time on one day. Every Sunday, for straight five or six hours, I do every undesirable task that people typically do during the week. I do the laundry, clean, go grocery shopping, create a meal and workout plan for the week, cut my nails, water my plants, and everything else maintainence-y under the sun.’
Bailey cites a few benefits of having a designated maintenance day: 1) you don’t need to worry about small, boring tasks during the week and can focus on stuff that matters 2) it’s satisfying to knock out a ton of small chores at once 3) you can’t procrastinate if there’s a designated time for particular chores 4) you routinise things that would otherwise rely on external reminders 5) right after completing maintenance day, you’ll feel like you really have your shit together and 6) you can do other stuff like listen to a podcast at the same time.
I’m doing a weekly maintenance day throughout January 2021 and so far it’s made it easier to focus during the week and reduced how much I procrastinate by starting the day with a procession of fluff.
#15 Have a ‘Head Down Day’ once a week for a month
This idea comes from Mike Crittenden’s post about ‘Heads Down Tuesday’: one day a week designated for focused work, meaning no meetings and minimal communication with others:
‘There’s power in 8 hours of unbroken time. It’s not the same as 4 chunks of 2 hours. And it’s not even close to 8 chunks of 1 hour. I sit down for the day and look at my empty calendar, and I’m ready to take on the world.’
How feasible this is depends on your work environment, of course.
#16 Choose a basic item of clothing you would wear and learn the required sewing skills to make it in a month
On my list of whenever projects. Basic sewing skills are useful and rewarding. My observations from taking sewing classes in the past (and watching my mother teach them) suggest that the best way to learn new skills is to start with something you want to make and wear. Something you would treasure because every detail reflects your taste. Then, assuming it’s something reasonably simple, reverse engineer the techniques you need for it.
#17 Make one thing, of whatever type of thing you make, each day for a month
As the saying, which probably doesn’t originate from Stalin, goes, quantity has a quality of its own. Making something every day is a good way to get out of a rut, overcome perfectionism and…well, a lot of people have written about it. Here’s an example of an animator who completes an art project every day. This anecdote about Jerry Seinfeld is always floating around.
I’ve never succeeded in my past attempts to write a post every day for a month even back when I didn’t, you know, have a job and stuff. But I’d really like to try it again one day.
#18 Only consume media in a language you’re trying to learn for a month
By media I mean books, news articles, music, podcasts, films, TV shows, etc. Almost every person I know who speaks more than one language fluently attributes it in large part to consuming a lot of media in that language so it’s something I plan to try for German (although I do already do it for most podcasts/TV shows.)
#19 Write all your to-do lists and simple notes in a language you’re trying to learn for a month
Or your plans (#20) or other kinds of simple daily notes (#21). As with #18, it’s an easy way to integrate a language into your day to day life when you don’t have frequent opportunities to use it. Anecdotally, I’ve found this seemed to help me get better at switching between English and German without a moment of panic.
#22 Teach someone something each weekday for a month
If you’re trying to learn something, teaching it to someone else can help build a better understanding of the material and a more positive attitude towards it.
#23 Try to read a lengthy, challenging, but apparently enlightening work or body of work in a month
Someday, I’d like to attempt reading all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in a month. I’ve calculated that it’s just about doable, assuming I don’t have much else going on at the time. And sure, it wouldn’t be a deep, intense, life-changing dive into the works of Shakespeare which is okay. Because I am unlikely to ever commit the time required for that deep, intense, life-changing dive and I’d prefer to have read them all in a shallow way than to have only read a few. Insert whichever work/body of work you’ve been meaning to read here.
#24 Revisit your notes from something you learned a while ago for X minutes per day
If you’re anything like me, you have thousands of digital or physical pages of notes about things you’ve learned in the past which you revisit far too infrequently. I’d like to try assigning a set amount of time each day for a month to reread these.
#25 Stop and take a picture every day at 8.36 pm
Buster Benson’s ‘8.36 pm project’ involves taking a picture of whatever he’s doing at that precise time each night. Though most of the pictures are mundane, they combine to form a narrative of his life.
Although the original 8.36 pm Project is open-ended, it’s a fresh way to frame the challenge of making whatever it is you make every day (#17). The super specific time means no debating when to slot it in and no leaving it for later. Nor do you need to figure out what to do each time — your brief is to reflect whatever is going on at that time.
#26 Keep the Sabbath each weekend for a month
I grew up Jewish (a bit more emphasis on the ish part in my case), thought the Sabbath was silly as a kid, and now see the value of the idea as an adult. Since moving to Germany, I’ve found I love how everything is closed on a Sunday — it’s a relief, not an annoyance. Even without any religious element, I think there’s a lot of value to designating one day per week as scared space which nothing but leisure can infringe upon. Jonathan Haidt writes in The Righteous Mind that we have an easier time sticking to rules if we regard them as sacred, no matter how many benefits we might otherwise know they have.
From Sabbath Hard and Go Home:
‘Leisure is time when you are not responding to a persistent stream of demands. Not your boss, but not a television commercial or newsfeed either. You can take a walk, or sit silently with friends, and let your mind wander.
….You would not want to do this sort of thing all the time. But it might make sense to do periodically — perhaps once a week — as a stopgap measure to combat attention drift. If powerful and pervasive cultural forces are out to get you, you ought to check in from time to time with yourself, and other people with whom you have local, high-quality relationships, to give yourself a chance to notice whether you have gotten got for too much.’
From Bring Back The Sabbath:
‘Light candles before sundown Friday to begin.
No outside inputs except in person.
No choices impacting post-Sabbath.
Light and extinguish no fires. Do no work or business. Spend no money.
Only preselected and spontaneously motivated actions are allowed. No browsing. No lists.
Light another candle after sundown Saturday to end.’
I’d also like to try out incorporating a clear shutdown ritual each day for a month (#27).
#28 For a month, take notes when people you see on a regular basis share what’s going on in their lives so you remember more of it
Back when I was working on my ability to make small talk, a few of the books I read on the topic