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Order of Operations

8 min

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It's natural to panic a bit when things spiral out of control.

What was ordered becomes disordered. What was predictable becomes unpredictable.

In times like these, there is a basic heuristic (a rule of thumb) that I fall back on:

First things first.

For me, this means there is a basic order of operations that must occur for me to get back on track.

If I want to push myself, to achieve, to be successful, to grow...these things must be in place.

If they aren't, I just end up spinning my wheels.

There's a reason it's an order of operations and not just a "list of things to take care of.  Each step builds on the one before it. You can't skip the line just because you feel like it - each element must be taken care of in turn.

This is simple, but not easy. It won't take me very long to explain, and you already know everything I'm about to tell you.

But knowing everything and actually acting on that information are two very different things.


Here it is:


Let's dive in.


Without sleep, not a whole lot is possible.

There's significant variation between people, and if you're young you can probably burn this candle longer than others.

But missing out on either quantity or quality of sleep saps your capacity for meaningful work. If you want to perform at your best, you must sleep well.

How do you sleep well?

Here's what's worked for me. Experiment for yourself:

Once you have been sleeping well for a while, it's time to move on to the next step:


The quantity, quality, and timing of your food affect everything from your body composition to your energy level to your mood.

If your eating is "disordered" - meaning your seeing large swings in the quantity, quality, or timing of food you consume day to day - it is likely having an impact on your capacity for meaningful work.

Luckily, dealing with food is far more straight forward than most people think.

Here's what's worked for me. Experiment for yourself:

What's important here is not any given calorie or protein goal, or that you eat a certain "type" of food or avoid another (you'll notice I said nothing at all about food choices above).

What's important is ordered eating, whatever that means for you: allowing our bodies to adjust to a regular and predictable intake of food while not allowing our emotions to drive our food choices.

Once your sleep is good and your food choices are ordered, we can move on to:


Everyone around you wants to divert your attention for their own profit. We are bombarded, every second of every day, but people who will do anything to distract us for their own gain.

You must control your attention if you want to do anything at all of value.

This means consciously deciding what media you consume, how and when you will consume it, and what is important to you.

I'm not saying you "shouldn't" look at TikTok or watch TV or whatever you want to do. What I'm saying is that you should make a conscious decision to spend your time in that way, rather than simply being diverted by those things from something that's more important to you.

Here's what's worked for me. Experiment for yourself:

Once your sleep is inline, your food intake is ordered, and your attention is your own, it's time to think about WHAT, exactly, you're paying attention to.


Attention is your capacity to focus. Focus is what you're focused on.

Ultimately, capacity to do meaningful work is just that - capacity. It is not the same as achievement.

To achieve, we need to be focused on the right things. Not much point in unlocking your inner strength only to waste it on something you don't care about...or, even worse, that moves you in the wrong direction.

This means choosing your goals wisely, and then making sure you remain focused on what will really help you achieve those goals. It also means being clear on what you DON'T want, and making sure that you don't lock yourself into something unsustainable.

Easier said then done, of course - especially when the world becomes more complex by the day, and who knows what's going to happen next year, much less in the next decade?

Peter Palchinsky put it this way: try new things, make them small so that they don’t threaten existence, and learn from the experience. *

If you're curious about how I personally stay in touch with my goals each week, I've written some in-depth posts on my process, all of which can be found here (look for the "Personal Danban" and "Quarterly Review" series.)

And that's all I have for this week.


Haven't been sleeping well.

Guess I know what I should be working on, eh?




Margaret Atwood on Envy and Friendship in Old Age.

I think that in structured, hierarchical, expanding corporations, where there’s room to move up—and moving up is fairly rapid—envy is less likely to happen. My theory is that the smaller the piece of cheese, the more the mice fight over it.
Notice I’m carefully not saying rats. And also, if you put too many animals in an enclosed space and with no exit, you’re gonna have fights, because there’s no way of getting out. So I think in closed systems, without much room for expansion, where the pieces of cheese are quite small, you’re gonna get ferocious resentments over who got the tiny piece of cheese.

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