How Do I Stop Feeling Like Time Is Slipping Through My Fingers?

A few months before the start of #Project20nine I found myself afflicted by a constant worry. It had crept up on me and settled in like a shadow in the night. I was worrying that I’ve been wasting my time and that no matter how hard I tried to stop the sands of time slipping through my fingers I just couldn’t.

Face it, T, no one can.

But the worst bit? The bit that really compounded the problem? Reflecting on the worry meant that I was so focussed on watching those grains fall that I’d lost sight of the grains that were in my hands.

We’ve all got time but it’s in front of us, not behind.

‘Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.’

John Lennon

The fear of wasted time is not uncommon and it’s a slippery path once we’re on it. That path spirals downwards if we don’t make a foothold and step up off of it.

So, I asked myself: how do I stop feeling like this way? How can I be confident that I am not wasting my time? Why is enough never enough? How do I achieve more?

These questions began to infect me the more I understood the root of my anxieties. I dug deeper and found the answers within a new line of thought.

There were 3 questions that I realised helped me to focus and become more proactive in claiming back my sense of making time work for me.

3 Questions That Help

  1. Where does my concept of wasted time come from?
  2. Do I compare myself to others too much?
    1. Is there value to this?
    2. Who, in particular, have I been comparing myself to? Why?
  3. Do I consistently benefit from the results of the way I spend my time?
    1. If results are not being seen, what is being seen?
    2. How am I gauging ‘results’?
    3. What is preventing me from seeing the results that I want to?

The answers will be enlightening. Questions 2 and 3 are closed questions but many open questions spring from them (some of which I’ve identified) and once we begin engaging with this thought pattern, a proactive response will be inevitable.

My Tips to Help Use Time Most Effectively

Assess where your time is going

Are you a procrastinator? A perfectionist? Super lazy or just not quite sure where to start so you twiddle your thumbs as you go round in circles? Do you simply try to do too much and end up chasing your tail? Nail this down and you’ll have an acute awareness of your own time-spending weaknesses.

One of the most immediate, and most likely places, that your time is going is your phone. Download a screen-time tracker like Momentum or utilise a built in function to highlight, in horrifyingly specific detail, just how much time you spend texting, tweeting, grammin’ and Facebooking.

Prioritise and task set (be uber specific)

When you find yourself saying ‘I don’t have time for XX‘, really try to address whether it’s actually the simple case of not having your priorities in right and proper order. For example, if your task list has 15+ items on it consider how many of them are necessary. If they all are, how can you group them? Which task will contribute to the accomplishment of others if done first?

Pareto’s 80:20 Principle states that roughly 80% of our results come from 20% of our actions. That’s a lot of results from very little input.

Establish routines

Cap the day with a morning and an evening routine to give yourself a sense of completion and to retain a bit of sanity if you’re always on the go.

These routines are like forming habits, and forming a habit can take around 66 days, according to Jeremy Dean, to naturalise. I speak about my own here.

To establish your new routine(s):

  • Make them the focus: create a cycle of accomplishing a structure and this mentality will seep into your cycle of accomplishment. Period.
  • Incorporate a sense of reward into them: morning routines might include a post-morning workout latte or the evening routine might include a bit of yoga.
  • Track results: did the new routine, after being established, contribute to greater accomplishment/better well-being/ other opportunities?

Schedule Your Time

Don’t seek to be busy, seek to be productive. Identify your primary goals for the next day by spending no more than 30 minutes, the night before, outlining them.

With these in place, block your time, allocate goals and break down actions into the most efficient tasks. This includes contingency planning for distractions and unexpected turns of events.

By extension, establish cold zones: periods of the day where using mobiles, social media and answering emails is prohibited.

Ideally these periods should form the majority of your time. Allocating specific tech-time will significantly contribute to better time management and focus.

By allocating specific times for emails you will refrain from dipping into the inbox every 20 minutes. Checking and replying at after the first major task has been accomplished and then again towards the middle of the afternoon will also help keep your focus sharp.

Don’t fear saying ‘No’

Saying ‘no’ is a skill. It’s not easy to do it but it’s a fundamental ability to nurture. Your time is yours and saying ‘no’ is an affirmation that you value it enough to keep for yourself. That’s not to say giving your time to others should be avoided, but it’s a serious consideration when you are asked to give it away.

Here’s a simple rule

Say ‘yes’ to things you:

  • have to do
  • should do
  • want to do

But of course the tricky thing is discerning between the three…

Remove distractions

This is one to really emphasise: the TV/Facebook/Instagram/mobile phone isn’t going anywhere. Let these time-thieves disappear from your consideration – the harder you hold on to them the harder it is to relinquish them. Rip ’em off like a band-aid and watch what happens.

Understand your physical and physiological needs

Take care of yourself! Move, drink, sleep, eat. Your brain and body will respond to these basics in kind. They will get sharper, feel more energised and ultimately serve you better.

Be patient but don’t accept waiting

Patience is a virtue but inserting ‘waiting time’ into the day is a long way from being practical. If you find yourself having to wait (for a meeting, a dentist appointment etc.) then use that time well!

Do you have smaller tasks that can be accomplished in this time? If not, how can you make that time work for you, rather than let it dissipate into the ether without a valuable result? Perhaps it’s time you can spend recharging with a tea or reading a few pages of a book.

Good organisation eliminates reorganisation

…and reorganisation is the mother of all time wasters. Keep it in order, keep it clean and you’ll save yourself the hassle of doing bigger jobs more frequently. It’s the magic of little and often.

Remember: you only have so many hours in a day

Trying to do too much, all the time, is not only bad for your health, it can affect relationships, finances and, paradoxically, other goals. Accept that a to do list is not a matter of life and death and that time for living, for relaxing and for non-work related activities is allowed.

Here’s another thought: being too busy, too often, is proof that we’re not good enough at saying no.

Be good at saying no.

This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. Today the author doesn’t feel a day older than he should. In fact, if you asked him how he does feel, he’d probably tell you he feels no different to the way he felt at the beginning of being a 20-something. He would also tell you how much he enjoys being however old he is at any given moment and that he feels hungry. But then again, he’s always hungry

How to Learn a Foreign Language in 30 Minutes a Day

I recently wrote an email to a family member. She’s Lithuanian and the last time I saw her (3 months ago) I did a pretty decent job at saying ‘hello, how are you?’ and then looking blankly as she answered. In contrast, my email was an actual conversation that translated meaning. It was the beginning of a eureka moment for me and a confirmation that my new approach is paying off.

Frankly, just try and shut me up.

Man labai labai patinka kalbėti lietuviškai. 

Did you know that 43% of the world’s population speaks 2 or more languages and 13% of the world’s population speaks 3 or more? That means that almost half of the world speaks a foreign language. That also means that the mono-linguists out there are almost in the minority.

I expect 43% is the lowest that figure will ever be again. For next week, next month, next year, more and more of us will have foreign language communication skills and, moreover, more of us will want those skills too*.

I’ve not reached fluency in any other language than my native tongue. I’m basically a mono-linguist with a predisposition to saying ‘hello’ and ‘thankyou’ in as many different languages as I can. Bonjour!

Interestingly, aside from Ireland, the UK (in joint second position with Portugal) is where folks are least likely to be able to speak any foreign language. Uh-oh UK! Not cool.

I have a compulsion of playing around with language no matter where I travel and love to really utilise some very basic skills. But my attention is currently focussed on Lithuanian: I’m taking classes, and taking self-study seriously.

But learning languages is not easy. It takes a lot of time and a lot of focus and a lot of dedication. A language such as Lithuanian has 7 cases, 6 declensions, several diacritics and a sentence structure that, for a native English speaker at least, can be tough to get one’s head around.

Here’s some stats:

The Foreign Service Institute is responsible for training US diplomats and ambassadors to speak foreign languages. Since 1947 they’ve built a very strong bank of data regarding language learning for English speakers. According to them, a native English speaker looking to reach fluency in Lithuanian could expect to do so in 44 weeks (308 days) with a total of 1,100 hours (an average of 3.5 hours a day).

Basic maths puts 44 weeks at just short of 7,400 hours. Let’s break that down:

  • Average sleeping hours: 7.5 hours per night.
    • In 44 weeks that’s 2310 hours
  • Average working hours: 37 (37.4 according to the ONS) per week.
    • In 44 weeks that’s 1628 hours
  • Average time in the bathroom (washing and doing your business): let’s call it 1 hour a day, although it’s a very loose estimate.
    • In 44 weeks that’s another 308 hours
  • Average time cooking and eating: we’ll generalise another 1 hour daily.
    • In 44 weeks that’s another 308 hours
  • Average commute time: the ONS report from 2011 shows a varied commuting experience across the UK but, using my own experience from a life in London, the time spent getting to and from work every day is around 90-120 mins. As we’re optimists, we’ll use the lower end.
    • So, in 44 weeks that’s 330 hours

Therefore between sleeping, working, commuting, eating and washing oneself, we’re already at 4,884 hours. Which leaves 2,516 hours of our 44 weeks remaining. That is, 34% of our time. Therefore, once we factor in those 1,100 hours of dedicated language-learning time, we have 1,416 hours left to ourselves. That’s time we might spend grocery shopping, working out, seeing friends and family, watching movies etc.

Look at it another way. 1,416 hours is 19.14% of our 44 weeks. We’re left with 20% of our lives to do with as we wish once we’ve done all of the essential stuff (not counting any number of other responsibilities like, being a parent, having a dog, running a side-hustle, going to the doctor/dentist/hairdressers, travelling, date nights etc) and the language learning.

Yes, that’s not much time left to do all those cool, sexy things but here’s the point: if we’re learning a language, we’re likely doing so by choice so 1,100 hours of language learning isn’t really to be subtracted from time that we can call ‘Me time’. It does, however, highlight a real sense of priority.

I learn for myself and I learn for another reason too. And I love learning. Period. But, like most of us, I’m pretty busy and, even though I’d very much like to, I don’t really have 3.5 hours a day, every day, to assign to language learning. So I’ve tried to simplify the approach to learning by finding a more efficient way of engaging with the language.

N.B. I’m not a language coach, a polygot or even a bi-linguist. The following has simply proven hugely helpful for me.

My approach to learning a language:

  1. Nailing the basics
    1. Learn how to read through understanding pronunciation. Where do you roll an ‘r’, and what sound does ž or ė make? Once you have this down, and with a good bit of focus you could have it down in less than an hour, you’re setting off with your best foot forward.
  2. Frequency dictionaries
    1. These are, without a doubt, a game changer. Frequency dictionaries list words in order of their usage within a language. Typically they’ll be split into Verbs, Nouns, Adjectives etc. and what they offer is a wide open door to fairly decent conversations from the get-go. Logically, if you can use the first 1,000 or so words of those dictionaries you’ll be having basic conversations with comfort. Get to just 4-5,000 words and you’ll have a vocab strong enough to see you through the C2 test of the Common European Framework of References for Languages. That’s considered Mastery. The CEF doesn’t go higher.
  3. Weekly one-on-one/two lessons
    1. This does help and it’s helpful for 2 main reasons: specific guidance from a native speaker trained to provide specific guidance to non-native speakers, and a degree of accountability: I’ve paid for a block of lessons so I’d better do my best to ensure I get my money’s worth…
  4. Using the language in everyday settings
    1. I’ve found that forcing myself to using Lithuanian whenever I can is incredibly useful in rewiring my brain. The more I replace my English with Lithuanian the more comfortable I feel using it and the smoother I am at doing so.
  5. Exposure and Immersion
    1. Being in an environment where I can really only use the language: in Lithuania/ in the company of Lithuanians, is incredibly useful. It offers little opportunity to escape and the pressure of successful communication being almost solely dependent on one language is a great motivator. Sure, English is spoken relatively prolifically in the Lithuania, and certainly among my peer group, but the real heart of the matter is respect. There’s not a valid excuse not to try as hard as one can to speak the respective language of the country one finds themselves in.
  6. Daily targets of new vocab acquisition
    1. My target, at set out at the beginning of the year for Project20nine, is 10 words a day. Not many, but in a year that equates to 3,640 new words. Hello CEF B2. It’s also incredibly easy to routinely learn this many words. In a day I might learn these whilst making a coffee, on the lunch break, whilst waiting for the rice to cook. Add a few more words in a day and bingo, you’ve taken an impossible job, and made lightwork of it.

I would also argue that finding any excuse to listen to the new language as often as possible is helpful (audiobooks, podcasts, music, radio, movies), just as reading books in that language is, even if it’s just a case of becoming familiar with words rather than necessarily understanding 100% of them. I also really enjoy Lithuanian puzzle books for the same reason and find attempting to tackle grammar workbooks aimed at kids a lot of fun.

Kitą kartą senų senovėje buvo senelis ir senutė (from Eglė, žalčių karalienė). 

…žinau. Kaip grazu.

That’s really it. In addition to points 3 – 6 I spend around 30 minutes a day, on average, working through various self-study Lithuanian learning tasks but do often have episodes of Lithuanian Out Loud on in the background or any number of YouTube videos filling the silence whilst working. Like staying in shape, it’s a bit of a lifestyle choice but not inconveniently so. It’s a conscious effort to ease as much learning into the day as possible, as conveniently as possible: looking at my desk and mentally listing everything on it in Lithuanian, replying to a text message in Lithuanian etc.

Learning a new language isn’t just for those of us we think a particularly good at doing so. If you think about it, a baby can learn a new language pretty well (that is, we are born into the world without any language…) so why can’t we do it now? We can all learn a new language, it’s just a case of choosing to.

This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. Today the author doesn’t feel a day older than he should. In fact, if you asked him how he does feel, he’d probably tell you he feels no different to the way he felt at the beginning of being a 20-something. He would also tell you how much he enjoys being however old he is at any given moment and that he feels hungry. But then again, he’s always hungry

How To Wake Up Early and Conquer the Day

“Discipline equals freedom”

Jocko Willink

I wake up at 5am almost every day. Whenever this comes up in conversation I am always aked ‘Why do you get up so early?’, which is then usually followed with ‘How do you do it?’. The answer is much simpler and far less crazy than you might think.

Allow me to break it down:

1) Carpe Diem

I’ve put in the effort to get up early, have formed the habit over that last 50 days and now have a fresh day to embrace. I don’t want to mess up my hard work. I’m going to handle whatever challenges lay before me today and I’m going to win my own race. I’m going to seize the day, Mr Keating.

2) Those few hours before the rest of the world is awake are the magic hours.

Put simply, there’s more space, it’s less busy and more peaceful. Watch the sunrise, hear the birds before the traffic, sip on the fresh brew of the day: there is a meditative quality to the small hours of the morning that I love.

3) Body clock

After a while the body clock readjusts naturally so it’s no big deal anyway. ‘Early’ no longer means what it once did and I don’t have to worry about a screeching alarm clock waking everyone else up.

4) Better sleep

So long as the mattress is comfy and the environment in general is conducive to a good rest then it’s very likely that you will have wound down from the day sooner and hit the hay earlier. If you’re the kind of person that has developed an appreciation of The Early Rise, then you’ll have built your routine around ensuring you get all the sleep you need.

5) More productivity

Getting up earlier than usual, until it becomes usual, has an effect on one’s mindset too. By getting up early I’ve set myself up to be productive (not ‘busy’ – those two words are quite the opposite).

6) More positivity

You’re not rushing, are you? You’re up and cracking on with the day so there’s no racing for the bus, or to get ready whilst the kids have to get ready too, or trying to beat the flatmates to the bathroom just to get a couple of extra minutes of hot water. I guarantee once you start waking up earlier, you won’t start feeling more pessimistic.

So, how do you become an early riser?

1) Don’t start by going all out. If you usually get up at 7am, trying to immediately shave off two hours to get up at 5am will be too much too soon. Spend a fortnight up to a month, dialling your wake up time back by 15-30 mins incrementally until you reach that new sweet spot. Just don’t forget that the aim isn’t to cut back on sleep! Whatever is removed in the morning, add it onto the night. It’ll just be a case of going to bed earlier.

2) Which is the second point. Recalibrate bedtime. You’ll find that if you’re up earlier you will naturally feel tired earlier anyway but the trick will be getting out of any bad, bedtime (badtime?) habits that could keep you up until your old, usual time. So, some practical advice:

3) No phones in the bedroom! Keep your mobile away from the bed. Ideally keep it on charge in the office/kitchen/wherever. The purpose is to remove the temptation to look at it whilst in bed. Not only is this incredibly unsocial and unsexy for whoever you share a bed with, but holding that bright light so close to your eyes at night will screw with your circadian rhythm and affect the quality of your sleep. If you fancy reading something, go Old School and use a book. And, if you absolutely must have the phone near you at night because you use it as the alarm, stick it on flight mode until the day has begun.

4) Cut the caffeine. If you love a hot drink, try to keep it decaffeinated after 3/4pm (ideally earlier). The half-life of caffeine in the body is anywhere between 4 and 6 hours.

5) Don’t eat heavy late in the evening. Your body will be put into gear to digest it all which, along with the energy the food releases, will make it more tricky to get some early shut eye.

6) Until your body clock is reset, you’ll likely be using a alarm clock to get up. But here’s the trick: keep that clock out of arm’s reach! This way, there’ll be no snoozing and to turn it off you’ll have to get out of bed so you may as well just stay out 😉

7) Once you are up, don’t dilly dally. Hit the shower, take a leak, wash your face. Whatever you need to do to wash that sleep away. It might be tough to get that going, but it will be come a routine and a familiar pattern before long.

8) Don’t give in to the self-talk. ‘Oh, it’s ok matey, you can sleep for another five‘; or ‘You know what, screw it. Let those other early birds catch the worms this morning, there’s always tomorrow for us ol’ sport.’. That inner voice is super quiet and not worth listening to. Don’t give them the speaker phone.

**Oh, one thing to note. You will know the difference between needing to stay in bed and simply wanting to. Your body is incredibly adept at giving you signs so don’t ignore them.

9) Getting up early is all well and good but you should have a reason that you’re doing it for. Even if it’s just because you realise how much you love the peace at that time of the day, find your reason! Without a reason there would literally be no point.

10) Is there a radio show you could catch after you hit the gym or spend an hour working on a project? Perhaps there’s a super sexy new coffee bean waiting to be ground, filtered and latte-ed up? Whatever it is that you enjoy, this is your reward for waking up.

11) Know too that if you’re getting up, and getting up, damn well make the most of it, soldier! Once you’re up you’re in command of the day. Boss it. Crush those tasks and make the first couple of hours of the day Your Time for Winning. By the time everyone else up, you’re already a champion. ‘Early’ will soon be description, rather than a dread.

Typically I get up five minutes before the alarm (which I now set simply as a safety net), whip out of bed to the kitchen to stick the kettle on and head for a wash. Get back to the kitchen where I’ve prepped the coffee kit the night before (along with the post-gym smoothie and porridge/eggs ingredients) and get dressed into the gym kit I laid out last night too. I’ll pour myself a small black coffee (I keep it small and relatively weak as coffee on an empty stomach can have adverse effects on the stomach and the circadian rhythm too) and be out the door for the gym within 15 minutes of getting up.

On the mornings that are not designated for gym work, I stretch at home and do a little bit of bodyweight exercise: press-ups, squats, planks, stationary holds etc. and then do something practical from the list of the day’s jobs.

By the time I get back/finished, I’ve still got enough time to wash and have a quick cuddle with the Good Lady as she wakes up. There’s usually also time to eat together. This is my reward: 2-2.5 hours of making the day mine.

This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. Today the author doesn’t feel a day older than he should. In fact, if you asked him how he does feel, he’d probably tell you he feels no different to the way he felt at the beginning of being a 20-something. He would also tell you how much he enjoys being however old he is at any given moment and that he feels hungry. But then again, he’s always hungry. 


How Do I Read More?: The Importance of Reading

Reading is a fundamental skill and a fundamental joy. Reading is, to push the adjective further, fundamental. Period. There’s a quote by Warren Buffett that’s been knocking around for a while, where he credits the majority of his success to the amount of time he spends reading:

“Read 500 pages like this every day. That’s how knowledge works. It builds up, like compound interest. All of you can do it, but I guarantee not many of you will…”

In fact, studies have shown that successful people consistently credit their success, in full and/or in part, to reading. Between them, Napoleon Hill (‘Think and Grow Rich’) and Steve Siebold (‘How Rich People Think’) conducted interviews with over 1,500 millionaires and found this simple pattern emerge. Tim Corely (‘Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals’) found that, typically, rich people read for self-improvement whereas those who were not defined as ‘rich’ did so for entertainment, and Tim Ferriss famously asks his guests, all of whom are ‘world-class performers from eclectic areas’, about their favourite/most gifted/most important etc. books.

Reading works. Every mum and dad out there pushing books on your mini-me’s, keep doing it!

Which is why reading features as one of the specific goals for this year. One of the items for #project20nine, specifically goal 19 in the Developmental category, asks for 2 books per month:

Screen Shot 2017-11-11 at 08.03.56

However, the challenge with this one is that if reading 2 books per month is as doable as folks like Tai Lopez, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Warren Buffett suggest, then each month I’ll look to increase the number of books read in the previous month by an additional one. At most this would mean that by October 2018 I’ll be up to 13 books, and therefore across the year…a ginormous 90 books down.

I’ll be honest, that seems like a lot of books even for someone with a pretty good reading rate. Nevertheless, in true #project20nine spirit, I’ll want to use this opportunity to read a selection of some very specific books, whilst leaving a good percentage of the year’s reading down to circumstance, opportunity and recommendation.

Generally, the books fall into a few categories: Fiction [F], biography [bio], history [Hist.], business [B], travel [Tr.] and science/self-development [SD]. That standby list, in no particular order, looks a little something like this:

  1. Papillon – Henri Charrière [Hist.]
  2. Dune – Frank Herbert [F]
  3. The Sagas of the Icelanders – Jane Smilely [F/Hist.]
  4. Musashi – Eiji Yoshikawa [F]
  5. The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi – William Scott Wilson [bio/Hist.]
  6. The Tale of Genji – Murasaki Shikibu [F]
  7. Mažasis princas [The Little Prince, Lithuanian translation] – Antoine De Saint-Exupery [F/ SD]
  8. Chasing Excellence – Ben Bergerton [SD]
  9. Ken Liu – Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The Legends of Luke Skywalker [F]
  10. Stephen King – On Writing [bio/ SD]
  11. Sir Richard Branson – Finding My Virginity [bio]
  12. Narconomics – Tom Wainwright [B]
  13. Phil Knight – Shoe Dog [bio]
  14. Hayao Miyazaki – Turning Point [bio]
  15. Ed Catmull – Creativity, Inc. [bio/Hist.]
  16. The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss [F]
  17. The Way of Kings – Brandon Sanderson [F]
  18. Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual – Jocko Willink [bio/SD]
  19. Outliers: The Story of Success – Malcolm Gladwell [SD]
  20. Mishima’s Sword – Christopher Ross [Hist./Tr.]
  21. Killers of the Flower Moon – David Grann [Hist.]
  22. Neuromancer – William Gibson [F]
  23. The Boys – Garth Ennis [F]
  24. The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equatorial Pacific – J. Maarten Troost [Tr.]
  25. The Almost Nearly Perfect Couple: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia – Michael Booth [Tr.]
  26. Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K Corral – Mary Doria Russell [F]
  27. A Doctor’s War – Aidan MacCarthy [bio/Hist.]
  28. Radicals – Jamie Bartlett [Hist.]

And a small handful of the many yet-to-be published titles of interest:

  • Tim Ferris – Tribe of Mentors [SD]
  • Artemis – Andy Wier [F]
  • Year of the Locust – Terry Hayes [F]
  • Ross Edgely: The World’s Fittest Book – Ross Edgely [SD]
  • The Familiar 6 – Mark Z Danielewski [F]

It’s not exhaustive, but it may prove exhausting! A good early indicator though is that it took me about 3 days of dipping in and out of ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ to finish that one, but more of that in the monthly progress review at the end of the month!

More to the point is how exactly will I be able to read so much? My approach is lean, simple and, I hope, logical:

  1. Establish a routine
    1. Within each day I have dedicated reading time. It’s habit-forming and keeps things running like clockwork.
  2. Read a couple of books at the same time
    1. Perhaps this sounds counter intuitive, but I’ve long found having a fiction and a non-fiction on the go at the same time is a nice balance. Non-fiction during the day and a nice bit of fiction during the evening/before bed.
  3. Keep a book with me
    1. Simple. This way whenever I have a moment to flip through a couple of pages I can grab the book rather than default to scrolling through the ol’ FaceBook or IG feeds.
  4. Have a list
    1. #project20nine. Keeps a focus on future reading but also, and perhaps more usefully, is a great metric for measuring reading successes and recording the titles.
  5. Use page markers
    1. I tend to use scraps of paper and torn up post-it notes to highlight pages/passages/quotes that I’ve enjoyed in a book, as well as to provide breadcrumbs back to things I want to take a closer look at, research deeper or simply re-read. I also use those fancy little translucent sticky tabs if I’m feeling particularly flamboyant.

Reading isn’t a race so going in for speed-reading and reaching sprints is pointless. I’m reading to enjoy myself not to impress or simply go through the motions of finishing a book, as I mention here. Using a service like Audible has its perks but is generally quite expensive should you begin using it for more than one book per month. So that’s it: 5 quick and straight-up pointers for injecting a little more literary stimulation in one’s life. If you need me, I’ll have my nose in a book some place.

This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. Today the author doesn’t feel a day older than he should. In fact, if you asked him how he does feel, he’d probably tell you he feels no different to the way he felt at the beginning of being a 20-something. He would also tell you how much he enjoys being however old he is at any given moment and that he feels hungry. But then again, he’s always hungry. 

The First Week of #project20nine

“If you have a dream, you can spend a lifetime studying, planning, and getting ready for it. What you should be doing is getting started.”

Drew Houston, founder and CEO of Dropbox.

The year began in London but quickly moved to Reykjavik before the day was out and what an absolute delight that was. I’ll be posting a separate, Iceland-specific post soon, suffice to say that it has been one of the countries I dreamed of visiting for a long, long time and the opportunity to start this particular year with a trip there seemed like the perfect thing to do. And despite all of the planning, something I didn’t really expect happened too…I came home even more pumped up about #project20nine.

Perhaps it was the Icelandic water and the fresh air they’ve got up there, or maybe it was the fermented shark, but having spent the first 4 days of the year in Reykjavik, I came home to a week that was as full and as productive as I had hoped and planned:


Up at 6am as a final holiday treat. Wash, breakfast and stretch. Head to work at 7am.  Spend the day in the office playing catch up after some time off. Clock out at 5pm and make my way to Imperial College London take take the Intro to Film course; study 10 Lithuanian words on the way. Wrap at 8.10 and return home. Eat, wash and love every second of the final hour of the day in the company of Vita. Hit the hay, 10pm.


Up at 5am, get some fresh air. Go home, wash, eat and leave for work. Spend the day in the office. Clock out half an hour late and walk home. Meet V, grab a quick bite and leave for Acro with these cool cats. Practise some hand to hand. Finish class and sneak in a quick gym sesh: pullups and core. Go home, wash and cook dinner: baked eggs in tomato, mushroom and spinach. Served with salad and mackerel. 10pm, wind down and lights out.


V’s away from early tomorrow so I take the opportunity to have a final snuggle and so skip the gym. She’ll be gone for the best part of 2 weeks and I’m a cuddler. Coffee, breakfast and leave for el worko. Spend the day in the office and get home by 6.30pm. Prepare dinner but don’t cook it yet. Spend a couple of hours researching for the year ahead and TwoFit. Put the second season of Stranger Things on in the background and feel satisfied that all is right with the world. Call The Mother to check in, remind her that I love her and to give her the lowdown on Iceland and the week in general. Chat for 50 mins. V comes home, I cook and listen to all the fun she had in the day. The astrologer she spent the evening with says she has a good year ahead. The astrologer says she found a good match in me. I like this. The astrologer says that 70-80% is a good match. I do not like this. 10.30pm, bedtime.


Up at 4.30am to drop Vita at the train station. Back home by 5am to clean the house, then breakfast and prep for my weekly English literature lesson with Ollie. 30 minutes of reading The Slaughterhouse Five before taking a morning stroll to meditate. Back to the flat for a quick tea and to pack the day bag with books and laptop; head to the train station for the 9.34. Begin lesson at 10.30, back on the train at 1.20pm and get back home by 3pm, due to delays on the trains. All of them. Grab a bite of Fage as the fridge is empty before jumping in the car and picking up the groceries. Back again by 5pm and after the early start, have a few relaxing hours.


Up at 7am and immediately begin crushing the day. Reward myself with a mid-morning walk through the city for coffee then back to the flat for a bit more work. Gym at 4pm, home for 6pm and meal prep for the week. Put together clothes, bag etc. ready for the new week and the pattern to begin all over again.

The week has been a great start and a precedent setter. I feel extremely motivated and am very grateful for the first week of the year. But now it’s November and the #project20nine plan for the month looks like this:

  • Book a floatation experience @ London Floatation Centre or Floatworks
  • Contact a new hero/inspiration: Ella Frances Sanders
  • Join a class @ Foundry Fit
  • Go swimming at least twice; consider Sunday afternoons.
  • Finish reading The Slaughterhouse Five and then read The Year of Living Danishly.  
  • Learn 300 new Lithuanian words
  • Book in for a deep tissue massage
  • Post a blog for each of the following:
    • How to wake up early and conquer the first 90 minutes of the day;
      • My daily fitness routine and how to stay focussed and motivated;
    • How to meditate with purpose;
      • The questions that often form the focus of my meditation;
    • The year’s reading list [titles that will be included for certain];
    • Monthly weigh-in and muscle-in: Going into #project20nine what are my baseline stats?
    • Where’s my concentration? The disappearance of the human attention span;
    • How to make the most of a long weekend in Reykjavik.
  • At the end of the month upload a video detailing the success/failure of the above

#project20nine in full swing!

This post is part of an ongoing account of the final 364 days of being a 20-something. Today is Day Eight and the author doesn’t feel a day older than he should. In fact, if you asked him how he does feel, he’d probably tell you he feels no different to the way he felt at the beginning of being a 20-something. He would also tell you how much he enjoys being however old he is at any given moment and that he feels hungry. But then again, he’s always hungry. 






How to Make the Most of a Year: What to Do in the Last Year of One’s 20’s. Part 2: The List.

Today is Day Zero. It’s October 28th 2017 and I’ve woken up one day older than when I went to bed. It’s also now 29 years to the day that I entered the world and so, if #project20nine is going to get off to its right and proper start, it’s time to get down to business.

Say hello to…

The List

Twenty-nine goals is a lot. Even across the year that averages one for every 12.55 days, supposing that they can be completed in that time. The approach I took when considering what these goals might look like was to define a handful of categories that, when taken together, might look like a fuller representation of life.

As such, those categories are:

  • Physical [health, exercise, nutrition, physical skills]
  • Experiential/ Pleasure [the simple joy of doing something new/novel i.e. the things that I’d want to do for the thrill of it]
  • Financial [money driven; job/career related]
  • Developmental [the things that can better help push/challenge/encourage a broader perspective and self-awareness; outward appearance]
  • Educational [general learning/self-study, qualifications, languages, certificates]
  • Emotional/Spiritual [mindset; emotional well-being and satisfaction]

I chose to omit specifically categorising things like Love & Relationships [family and friends]Character, Public Service/CharityArtistic and Quality of Life as these are things that flow through all of the above as well as remain consistent considerations irrespective of goal-setting. Most will be observable in one, or more, of the goals outlined below in any case.


Our bodies are a gift and, treated well, they’re a gift that will keep on giving. It can be so, so easy to take the for granted or be afraid to putting in the hard work to make them even stronger. It is a zero-sum game: if we work hard for our bodies, our bodies will work hard for us.

Goal Measurable Outcome
1 Squat 2x bodyweight, bench 1.5x bodyweight and and deadlift 2x bodyweight Video evidence.
2 Complete a series of sporting events: The medal for each event.
Tough Mudder [April]
Survival of the Fittest  [June, London]
Red Bull 400
Nordic Run [September]
Colour Run [June, London]
Spartan Race [May]
Bonus: 7th race in another country
3 Experience a flotation tank Vlog.
4 Have regular, i.e. monthly or more, deep tissue massages Vlog.
5 Go for a manicure and/or pedicure. Photo evidence.
6 Reach 90kg with 8% body fat Photo evidence. Digital body analysis.
7 Remove the subway from the equation: use underground public transport only when absolutely necessary Monthly Oyster Card report.
8 Be able to hold a 20 second handstand. Video evidence.
9 Master the muscle up. Video evidence. Fluid movement from the hang the to press. 5 or more reps to qualify.
10 Have full blood work analysis done for:

·       Cholesterol

·       Testosterone

The report

The Blood Work

To begin, I want to know what exactly is going on inside me at a cellular level and my baseline questions are: What are my testosterone levels looking like and how can I use a reading of them to push them higher? And, does my cholesterol sit at the lower end of the spectrum, and if not, how can I get it there and how quickly can I do it? For health in general, but particularly for male health, these two are key. There are a number of additional readings that can be taken from blood tests (FBC, blood sugar, electrolytes etc.) that will likely also be explored.

Heavy Lifting

Lifting double (and 1.5x for the bench press) one’s bodyweight is not particularly unusual or attention-grabbing, and I don’t desire being able to do so for social credits or bragging rights. It’s generally considered above average, but if I was looking for that kind of attention, I’d be shooting for a much larger ratio than this. For me, the ability to squat, press and deadlift these weights is a realistic, targeted and practical ambition. For one, developing that strength will be a safety net: I will be better protected, and better able to protect myself, should I fall. It will also make daily functionality that much easier and efficient. Training with goals is also a form of meditation for me. I feel good when I see progress and in terms of bang for buck the overall benefits of becoming stronger at these compound exercises has many practical applications. Not least of which includes helping me more quickly work towards the muscle up and handstand, and all of the other awesome calisthenics exercises. Both of these abilities are supremely impressive and both indicate a genuine mastery of one’s bodyweight which, in turn, offers further, significant functionality. Even though I’ve listed the muscle up as an achievement already, I want to master it. Simply getting above the bar was one of last year’s goals. It wasn’t a pretty sight. In fact, I’m pretty sure I caught a couple of people recoiling at it. But heck, I got up there!


The desire to reach 90kg bodyweight at 8% body fat is on here because I’m an ectomorph and historically putting on lean mass (any kind of mass, really) has proven very slow and difficult for me. This goal is 10kg above my current weight and about 4-5% below my body fat today. This goal is here to force me to train differently and to push me further outside my comfort zone. It’s also a bit of an experiment for me in terms of exploring perceptions of masculinity and physicality, especially in an age where physical aesthetics amongst all of us who are not elite athletes appears to be so much more of a concern.

The Sporting Events

Running sporting events such as those listed above is a little bit of an antidote to my desk-bound lifestyle at present. Typically, my day jobs keeps me sat at a desk, over a computer, for 8-9 hours a day so whilst these endurance, obstacle races may seem like an extreme antithesis to this, I enjoy the challenge and thrill of pushing myself in as many ways as possible. More curious is the number of races I’ve outlined for the year and the reason for this is simple: the value of consistency. Training for a single event that will occur on one day of one year is reductive. I want to establish a new, higher baseline for my fitness and so signing up for multiple events that are regularly spaced out throughout the year will provide great motivation to keep working hard. It’s also a socially and financially incentivised decision. If I don’t train well or fail to attend and give it a shot, not only will it be public knowledge I’ll have also wasted the entry fees.

The Races

**subject to availabilty


I’ve set myself a number of physically demanding challenges but I’m a great believer in balance and so to offset the physical stresses are a number of recovery/rebalance items. Sensory deprivation has been an interest of mine for some time but I’ve yet to experience the flotation tank. Likewise, the effects regular deep tissue massage has never been in dispute and, in keeping with the outlined approach to training, would be hugely beneficial to my goals.

Removing the Subway from the Equation

Currently I still live in London and the air up here, it ain’t fine. As a cyclist I tend to avoid public transport in general, but sometimes I’ll whip on the tube if it’s more convenient, if I have a class to attend/teach and/or the airport to get to. Of all the times that I might resort to using the London Underground, I expect only about 75% of that time is truly essential. A small goal for this year to is to bring that figure up to 100%. I only want to use the tube, which is not only filled with polluted air but super expensive for the pleasure of breathing it in, when absolutely necessary.

Experiential/ Pleasure

Life is for living and even though all twenty-nine goals are personal, a lot of them are result driven. That’s all well and good, but simply joys and the fun stuff (however we want to define these terms) should feature in all of our lives. The items below are here for their visceral thrill as well as to provide me with opportunities to test my mettle and understand how I might respond to new and potentially (to me at least) scary situations. They’re also, absolutely, about the simple joy of just going for it.

Goal Measurable Outcome
11 Write a new song and record it An audio upload.
12 Drive a Mustang Photos/vlog.
13 Fly a plane Photos/vlog.
14 Fire a handgun Photos/vlog.
15 Get professional headshots done, submit to an agent and get an audition for a film or TV drama The photos and a vlog.
16 Eat in a Michelin-starred restaurant Photo
17 Skydive Photo/video

New Song(s)

The last song I recorded sounds like this: It’s just been a few years since I sat down and put the time into this channel of creativity. This year I’d like that to change. I love making music but somehow, and somewhere along the line, it became less of a priority.

Flying and Driving and Skydiving

Let’s not dwell on the why’s and wherefores just yet, suffice to ask: how can flying,  driving and gliding through the sky be anything other than thrilling?

Firing off a Round

…specifically from a handgun. Firing handguns, or any firearms in fact, in the UK is not a common experience. We don’t have firing ranges in abundance and owning and using personal firearms is a long, long series of bureaucracy and assessment. I don’t contest this for a second and wholly support it – I would feel very uncomfortably should this ever change. However, it does make the idea of handing a handgun that much more novel and appealing, especially for someone who grew up making his sister play Cowboys and Indians with him.

Headshots and Auditions

I’m a cineaste through and through and would love to try my hand at acting for the screen. I live in one of the most opportune places to do just that and all I need is a picture and bit of wherewithal to at least be in the race. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? But to be clear, I’m not in this for anything other than the experience of stepping behind the curtain.

The Restaurant

Another joy of being in a city like London is the access to world-class dining. Sure, there is a smorgasbord of countries on another of my lists I’d love to have more dining experiences in but there is a lot on offer in London too: Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester, Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, Brett Graham at The Ledbury, Dinner By Heston…  There is also a lot going on outside of the city too.


Goal Measurable Outcome
18 Reinvent my image Before and after photos
19 Read 2 books per month (and put together a reading list) Brief account/overview/discussion of the books in the blog
20 Take a photo of life everyday Digital record: Instagram a/c
21 Take a self-portrait everyday Digital record: Instagram a/c
22 Take a camera everywhere The above evidence

Our image, our outward appearance, is intrinsic to our identity. I definitely feel that I’ve not put as much effort into my image as I once did. With the exception of being focussed on my health and the inevitable effects on my body physically, my wardrobe, hair, shoes etc. have grown tired and neglected. This is undoubtedly the most superficial item on the list, but how we appear is a reflection of how we feel, our sense of identity and our personality. In the coming year it is my intention to sharped up, and have fun doing it.


As part of the emphasis on self-development I mentioned above, reading books is a cornerstone of this ideology. I’ve loved books and loved reading forever so putting this into the project might seem a little wasteful of any entry, but there’s a reason for it. Lately, I just haven’t been doing a whole lot of reading because time is being used up on a lot of other things in the day. I wonder if I can take a leaf out of someone else’s book.  I’m fascinated by the influencers (Tai Lopez, here’s looking at you) who claim to read a book a day/ every other day etc. because to me and, I suspect, anyone with their foot in reality, doing so seems infeasible, unenjoyable and, frankly, illogical. Think about it. If I’m reading a book a day, there’s only a few things that can mean:

  • I don’t have anything else to do in the day (Even at a page every 30 seconds, which is roughly double the average speed of 200-314 words per minute, a 300-page novel will take 2.5 hours. Which isn’t so long, until we factor in the rest of our average-person’s day: sleep for 7.5 hours, wash, cook and eat for two hours, work for 8 hours, gym for another 1.5 hours, socialise/evening class/play with kids/walk the dog etc. for 2 more, travel and commute for the other 2. That’s 24 hours for most of us. Maybe the commute and lunch breaks will afford those 2.5 hours of intense reading time, but then again maybe not.)
  • The books I’m reading are either novellas of about 100 pages, or kid’s books,
  • I’m turning the pages but not really engaging with, or savouring, the content or, if I am, I’m not really retaining it,
  • I’m using book summaries/book overviews, and mistakenly calling it ‘reading a book’, or listening to audiobooks in the background,
  • I’m not being entirely honest because I want to look cool/sell a product

Of course, that’s a pretty cynical way to look at it, especially given how I’ve not yet tried to read a book a day for any prolonged period of time. It may well be completely possible for an average Joe such as myself. So, 2 books a month is a book a fortnight. For the first month this is my first step. If at the end of that month I’m two books down and feeling like I can push it further, I’ll recalibrate and go for 3 in the following month, 4 the following and so on. At that rate, by the end of the year I should be flipping through a book every other day, or more accurately, 13 books a month! The only rule: the reading experience must always be enjoyable.


The photography element of this section is twofold. It will mean that I can visually document the year and record the changes that occur to my body over 364 days of aging. Coupled with this a catalogue of every day images and I’ll have a pretty well-rounded image of the year. Plus, I think this will be a lot of fun. I’ve never subjected myself to this kind of thorough examination. Looking in the mirror briefly each day reminds me that I’ve not changed a single bit in the last 10 years, but every new passport photo and driver’s license reissue abruptly tells me otherwise.


Goal Measurable Outcome
23 Attain a L4 Diploma in Pre & Ante-natal Exercise The certificate
24 Apply for funding for NFTS Diploma in Script Development Notice of application
25 Learn 10 Lithuanian words per day Weekly examination results/vlog

I’m a complete advocate for learning. This isn’t just an advocacy for qualifications, because we learn by doing, talking, reading irrespective of whether we get to sit an exam somewhere down the line to prove we learned something. However, in this instance goals 23-25 are qualifications that, regarding #23 and #25, do not require much time and #24 is intrinsically tied to my current, primary career focus. The Level 4 diploma is, effectively, building my skillset and evidence of it for any prospective employer/client, whilst the Celta qualification will help facilitate English tutoring opportunities in foreign-speaking countries. This is another experience I would very much enjoy having and also provide me with a fall back option should I be looking for work should I find myself in, say, Lithuania learning Lithuanian for a spell.

Learning 10 Lithuanian words per day is for my own benefit and as my partner, Vita, is Lithuanian, for the benefit of my Lithuanian family and friends too. I want to be able to talk with them in their own language. Simple as that. 10 words a day is a small, attainable goal that, with consistently, will provide me with an even larger word base than I have today. In fact, 10 words a day is low-end in terms of practical quantities (Gabriel Wyner suggests 30 words as a starting point, Benny Lewis suggests 400 hours/1-2 hours a day as an alternative measure) and using an app like Anki*, where I can build my own flashcard catalogue, will make the learning convenient and involving. Learning languages is also hugely fun and rewarding. Even just swapping out mindless scrolling through Facebook and Instagram feeds for the same amount of time with a language learning app, phrasebook or study guide, will take you places. This is possibly the most exciting item on the list for me, because I know that it will deepen my relationships so much more.

*not an affiliate link, it just happens to be the app that I use.


Goal Measurable Outcome
26 Contact a new hero/inspiration every month Blog post about that person
27 Move out of London to somewhere completely new Proof of relocation: image/video

Heroes and Inspirations

I think reaching out to an inspiring person, whoever they are and for whatever reason, is a great thing to do and something that I want to do much more of. The last person I reached out to was Paul Katis, director of the incredible Kajaki, simply to thank him for such a powerful, respectful and remarkable film. Reaching out is not a self-serving goal. It’s not about brown-nosing or sucking up to someone in the hopes that they can do something for you. The chief aim is simply an act of gratitude: to give thanks for the effects that their work or actions have had on you.

The Move

Moving out of London is absolutely something that I now feel will be a huge benefit to me. I’ve been here for nearly 3 years but it takes a toll. Physically, spiritually, emotionally and, unquestionably, financially. London is a fantastic place. It’s full of life, opportunity, things to do and culture. Coming from a small town in England, London is the centre of the universe, and there’s no escaping just how important it is on a global scale. BUT, it’s not the only place in the world and, in terms of what I want and how I want to live, London doesn’t have longevity written all over it for me. I’m appalled and terrified of the air pollution in equal measure, feel exactly the same about the cost of living and most days find myself consciously fighting not to slip into the same, rushed and frenzied mindset of most of its population. I’ve lived it, and now want to experience life in a new place, a new country and a new culture.


Goal Measurable Outcome
28 Generate a larger profile for TwoFit Social media audience
29 Write the outline for my first book A draft

TwoFit is one of my proudest accomplishments and most personal endeavours of the last 12 months. As a business it reflects a significant part of my identity and also provides a platform through which likeminded people can interact with us. It is, however, still a new venture and there are many things in store for it over the next 12 months. As a place for channelling passion, it is deeply rewarding.

Writing a book, whilst at first glance would seem to belong to the Developmental/Education categories, is here to further incentivise me produce something I am proud of. There’s a book, or two, in all of us but to be able to make money from it/them…that’s another level. I owe it to myself to shoot for the stars.

For the next 364 days, those are the things that I’d like to spend my time on but…

…I also want a Plan B! Not as an alternative, as an addition if possible:

The Additional List

If it’s not already obvious, I’m a bit of a dreamer. But ask yourself this, if we don’t have our dreams, what do we have? Once I began really thinking about the size of the coming year, suddenly twenty-nine items seemed quite restricted. All things considered, the following will ideally take place throughout the coming year too. Strictly speaking these are not definitive items on the agenda but are nevertheless a handful of things I’d like to experience and/or achieve. They’re not off the team, they’re just on the bench:

  1. Apply for funding for a L4 qualification in Strength and Conditioning
  2. Build a computer
  3. Go for a whiskey tasting evening and/or try a new whiskey every month
  4. Attend a book carving class
  5. See a basketball game
  6. Go swimming twice a month
  7. Visit Porchester Spa
  8. Learn how to professionally use a chef knife
  9. Say no more often [yes, it’s a hard one to measure/quantify; no, I’m not going to take it off]
  10. Immersive Lithuanian – live in Vilnius for a month, enhance my language ability.
  11. Embrace digital detoxes by following a few guidelines:
    1. Phone out of the bedroom at night/phone on aeroplane mode if the phone is needed as an alarm
    2. Do not use a computer/laptop/internet device on Friday nights after work
  12. Do something uncomfortable every month…
    1. that is to say, express eustress — stress that is healthful and the stimulus for growth – on a regular basis
  13. Start a blog and commit to it
  14. Provide someone in need with a hot drink and a hot meal
  15. Take my partner, Vita, for a Sunday morning coffee at least once a month.
  16. Meditate daily
  17. Save £XXk
  18. Speed friending: find a meet up/language swap/sports class twice month
  19. Complete a coffee training course

So, on the edge of 29 as I peer up at 30, looming over me as it is, I make the following pledge:

I, Taylor Boxall, will live the year to the fullest, make bold decisions, do incredible, exciting and memorable things and, when its done, Ill look back with joy and satisfaction, safe in the knowledge that I spent the last year of my 20’s making the most of it.

Perhaps life does begin at 30, but I’ve long suspected life starts precisely when you choose it to. Life, I’m inclined to believe, doesn’t begin at 30, it just gets bigger and better but before that, there’s a whole year to enjoy.

Happy birthday.

How to Make the Most of a Year: What to Do in the Last Year of One’s 20’s. Part 1: The Rationale

Part 1: The Rationale

On October 28th, I turn 29 years old and begin my final year on this side of 30. Some might tell us it’s the right side and that it’ll all be downhill from there. Others, the cool, optimistic ones, will tell us things only get better from there on out. Either way, it’s a big one. So big in fact, that I’ve decided that it’s high time for a reappraisal; an analysis exactly of who I am, what I’ve done with my life and how exactly, I believe, the final year of my 20’s should be spent. It’s a kind of pre-emptive therapy, a preventative measure against the possibility of waking up one morning with the realisation (or, rather, the misguided belief) that I have been wasting my life [i]. Over the next year I want to share the journey and my approach to leaving the 20’s behind with a bang and starting the 30’s with an even bigger one. After all, they also say life begins at 30. Right?

Before I begin, I think that it’s important to state, categorically, that #project20nine is not indicative of any sense of unhappiness. I am happy, I have a beautiful family and have few genuine worries in life. For this I am absolutely grateful. This project is about embracing opportunity, pushing myself in as many different ways as I desire, learning, growing and, most essentially, continuing to make the most of life in the fullest way I can. It’s also about asking myself exactly who I want to be, what I want to do, how I’m going to do it, where I want to be and, perhaps most importantly, why I want these things. These aren’t questions that I necessarily have the answers to right now, but one year from now I’ll either have new answers or reaffirmed old ones.

In 2017 there is a firmly established mindset, certainly among millennials, that places an emphasis on self-dependency, finding one’s passion and making a living from it, travel, real-world experience, not settling for second best and entrepreneurialism. Is it idealism? Is it a pragmatic belief that we can have all these things? Or is it the paradox of social media?

We live in an age with more opportunity to do what we find fulfilling than ever before and with a 24/7 window that overlooks everyone else doing just that it’s perhaps not entirely unreasonable to realise that a certain amount of envy, no matter how artificial those things our envy is based on are, is inevitable. What’s more, to assume oneself to be immune to such influence is naïve. I don’t feel affected but I have no doubts at all that the things I see, read, engage with and have even a fleeting interest in have a degree of impact on my desires and decisions. That said, as a starting block, #project20nine is as honest and as sincere to my own needs as I can make it. The variety of items are not there superficially: I am not concerned if one, some or all of them are impressive. What matters to me and should matter, I believe, to anyone looking to do something similar for any year of their life, is that the list reflects me, and not how I wish to be perceived.

Over the last several years I’ve routinely sought to achieve the things that I felt bettered me, stimulated me and/or offered an opportunity to open more doors and, generally speaking, and to my own standards, I have. Of course, those choices have never been infinite and any one of the them could quite easily have been replaced by another, but I own these choices and some of the highlights from the last decade include:

  • Age 21– I graduated for the first time with a scholarship-funded First Class honours BA degree with Distinction in Media Production.
  • Age 22 – I took my first solo overseas trip to a non-English-speaking country (Hallo, Deutschland!).
  • Age 23 – I became a teacher.
  • Age 24 – I graduated for the second time, this time in teaching.
  • Age 25 – I went back to university on another full scholarship, got a motorcycle license and fell in love with riding one.
  • Age 26 – I graduated for the third time (MA in Film and Television) and ran my first half marathon.
  • Age 27 – I moved to London from a small town in the UK and then travelled 3,500km around Japan.
  • Age 28 – I qualified as a PT, started learning Lithuanian, got a promotion, moved in with my partner, Vita, travelled around India and Sri Lanka, became a lecturer at Imperial College London, did my first muscle up and launched TwoFit.

During this time I also became an uncle 5-times over, saw one sister get married, saw the other come out and realise that I’ve got a lot of work to do to catch up my old man who just asked my mother to marry him again. Next year he’d like me to give her away and then stand beside him as his best man. What a romantic.

The above doesn’t make me any more or any less special than anyone else; any better nor any worse. Would I have done anything differently? Absolutely, but do I regret the decisions I made? Absolutely not, because there’s nothing to regret and it wouldn’t get me anywhere even if I did. I can’t change the past but I can affect the future by continuing to make choices and continuing to learn from them too. One of the ways that I plan on doing this is with this blog. It’s my evidence portfolio, my record of achievement and the chief means with which I’ll be able to look back on this year and see exactly where it’s gone. I keep plenty of notebooks but I’ve never kept any sort of diary. #project20nine is the most extensive diary I’ll have ever kept.

This is a year about living consciously. Achieving tangible, measurable things is fun and satisfying and practical but developing a mindset, that’s less immediately observable. I can’t take a photo of it, win a medal for it or take a video of its first steps. But I can develop it nonetheless. Like most of us I can sometimes be a big negligent of truly conscious mindfulness and so, alongside my intention to achieve the tangible, I also want to place the following questions at the forefront of this year:

  1. How can my approach to the next 364 days be more considered?
  2. What is the short and long-term value, and consequence(s), of my actions and decisions? Who will benefit from such choices?
  3. Am I living fully and with gratitude? Do I show appreciation to others; feel appreciation for the small things often enough; do things for others just because and without anticipation and expectation of reciprocation?
  4. Do I live each day confidently, with self-belief strong enough to really push myself
  5. Would my actions and/or decisions make my parents proud? Could I comfortably discuss them with them?
  6. Would my actions inspire my 19-year-old self?
  7. Would my actions make my 39-year-old self proud?

“What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”

Tim Ferriss, The Four Hour Work Week

#project20nine begins with looking backwards but continues with looking forwards. Over the next 364 days I have a number of personal endeavours that I intend to embark on, to accomplish and to enjoy and the most straightforward way setting up the year ahead is to itemise them.

However, it’s a year that isn’t just about ticking stuff off a list. That’s a bit superficial and a somewhat misguided use of time. There’s no real value in that, no emotional investment or sense of appreciation. The title of the project is a celebration of each year of my life to date and so with respect to that number I felt it fitting to fill the year with twenty-nine exciting things. #project20nine is about doing things that excite me because the question one should ask oneself on a regular basis is not ‘what are my goals’ but rather, ‘what excites me and what can I do about it?’.

In order to get there, #project20nine has a couple of criteria that automatically rules certain entries out. First, travel is not eligible. I travel a lot and fully intend to keep doing it. There are plenty of dream trips (one of them, a trip to Iceland to see the Aurora Borealis, starts on my birthday) but travelling is not a specific aim for the year. Second, anything to do with commercialism or item acquisition is also out. Material goods come and go and I believe that life aspirations should be free of anything so temporary. An expensive pair of shoes are nice, but they’ll wear out much quicker than memories.

That aside, one of the big considerations regarding the list is plausibility and so entries need to be considered in such a way that doesn’t render the list unrealistic and/or highly unlikely. All of the best intentions, positive energy and belief that the if youre going to dream, dream big/ if youre going to fail, fail big etc. mentality will make dreams come true isn’t a logical approach. It’s inspiring and optimistic, but the list entries should be evaluated in such a way that whilst yes, they might be lofty ambitions given the constraints (whether financial, time or otherwise), setting oneself up for failure is, frankly, a waste of time and opportunity. What’s more is that the success of each list item should be quantifiable. After the fact, to what degree was it achieved and how can that achievement be measured?

Simply put, any item on the list is eligible should it meet the following criteria:

  1. Does it excite me?
  2. Are they within the realm of possibility? [putting ‘get a PhD’ on the list has a very high degree of implausibility within a year, just as ‘become an A-list movie star’ has]
  3. Does the entry have a measurable result?
  4. Will I look back on the memory of the entry and be glad of the time, energy and/or financial resources that I spent on it?
  5. Does the entry have a low-to-zero chance of negatively impacting on anyone else’s life?

If the answer to all criteria is a resounding ‘Yes’, it’s game on. If not, how can the entry be amended to still fit the bill and if it can’t then great, there’s a new space for a new entry.

Either way, game on.

[i] For the record, we’ve all been living our lives the best that we can. Our motivations, our ambitions and our contentment of those years leading to the Now are intimately ours and no one else will ever have the right and liberty of judging them. If we get to the point where we think we could have done better that’s precisely the point at which we step back, reflect and step up our games. The most important person to strive to be is yourself in 5 or 10 years. That’s the hero to look up to and hope to be because the 5/10 year Future Self is the Self with the gift of time and all that that time has to offer us.