Deep Work Tracking Worksheet

Since 2016, I have been practicing "Deep Work". Deep work is the "ability to focus without distraction on a cognitively demanding task." Practicing deep work has significantly improved my own productivity. The concept comes from a book by the same name by author Cal Newport. In the book, Newport gives tips and strategies for improving the quality and quantity of deep work.

One of those tips is to simply keep track of how much time you spend doing deep work. Newport maintained a scoreboard of his deep work while he was in school. He drew horizontal lines on a piece of cardstock—each row representing one week of his school semester. He drew a tick mark for each hour of deep work he accomplished during that week. He would also circle the tick mark representing the hour where he accomplished an important milestone in one of his academic projects.

Inspired by this technique, I made my own template for tracking my deep work and have been updating the template over time. The first version of my tracker just tracked each deep work hour (left image). This technique worked great, but I found that I found that it didn't allow me to track milestones easily because I usually work on more than 1 projects in day. I fixed this by adding an option in a later version to choose different categories that I can track over time (right image). 

Deep-Work-Lead-Measurement.jpg
IMG_9996.JPG

 

After sharing these techniques, many people were interested in using my worksheet so I made it available along with other tracking tools that I made on my new store. Let me know what you think. I'd love to hear your experience with Deep work and get your feedback on how to improve the tracking tools.

 

 
 
 

Sticker Charts

In the past few years, I have been experimenting with different systems for self-improvement. For most of my experiments, I use my graphic design skills to develop some visual chart or framework to track my thoughts or progress in some area. The most recent system I designed has been very successful in helping me and my family develop habits and daily rituals. It is a simple sticker chart that tracks the daily, weekly, and monthly goals of each member of the family. This system has been more successful than anything else we have tried so far.

The purpose of the goal chart is to help my family develop habits that will help us grow individually and collectively. The chart has one section for the goals of each family member such as individual daily reading goals. There is also a section for goals that can only be accomplished collectively such as daily family prayer.

Here are some pictures of our January and February sticker charts: 

February is partially complete because I am posting this on the 12th. 

For this experiment, no one is rewarded individually when they have earned a certain number of stickers. The system is set up to reward the whole family. My hypothesis is that this will help create a sense of shared purpose and unity and to encourage family members to motivate each other. This month, for instance, we all agreed that when we achieved 10 perfect days — where everyone finished all of their goals for that day— we would go out for ice cream as a family.

The sticker chart system is not meant to get kids to do chores around the house. I want to avoid teaching my kids that chores are only worth doing if they get something in return. This is another reason why the system is focused on self-improvement and uses collective rewards.

In addition to helping us develop better habits, the sticker chart system has other benefits as well. It replaces some of the chaos of life with a feeling of order, structure, and consistency. It is an aid as we talk with our kids about the importance of connecting short-term goals with long term wants and desires. It also helps our young kids understand the basic mechanics of the calendar, giving them a better sense of days, weeks, and months.

The system isn’t perfect however. Sometimes it can seem like it is just about filling in the numbers. For example, one of my my daughter’s goals is to draw a picture every day. One day she did a cursory drawing with very little effort just to get a sticker. Another issue is that the current version of the sticker chart tracks our progress for the length of the whole month. It is great to see the progress over a whole month, but it can seem too rigid if we are ready to adjust or add goals in the middle of the month. Hopefully these and other issues can be resolved as the system evolves over time.

Update: I added the latest sticker chart to my downloads page. I will update the sticker chart monthly to reflect the upcoming month.

 

Financial Independence

Working allows us to leave our parents and live on our own. It allows us to be independent. I will call this the first independence. If we work hard and invest our savings we can accomplish independence from having to work. This is the second independence. It is often called financial independence. The graph below shows a standard time frame for when we are dependent on parents, independent through work, and independent from work.

 path-to-financial-independence

path-to-financial-independence

Financial independence is a worthy goal. If we don't have to work, we can devote our time to developing ourselves and contributing to society. Benjamin Franklin lived to age 84. All of Benjamin Franklin's major achievements were made after he reached financial independence (FI). He reached FI when he was in his early 40s. His path to financial independence looked something like this:

 path-to-financial-independence-franklin

path-to-financial-independence-franklin

If you want FI by age 50, you first need a plan that will get you there by 70. It is more difficult to achieve FI at younger ages. Therefore, a retire-at-70 plan must precede a retire-at-50 plan. Increase your chances of an early FI by thinking about these things now and studying people who have achieved early FI.

Savings and lifestyle

The purpose of this post is to show how to maintain one's lifestyle after he/she stops working. Observe the chart below (Source here). It shows the advantage of continuing education past high school. It also shows that in the course of a lifetime one’s salary will tend to rise until about 40, it will rise a bit slower from 40 to 50, then it will plateau and slowly decline.

 20120910-Income-by-education

20120910-Income-by-education

For illustration purposes, here is simplified version of the above graph:

 20120910-income-by-education-abstracted

20120910-income-by-education-abstracted

Income tends to rise when young people get more experience, education, and skills. Income tends to decline as work skills become obsolete, and as people work less and/or leave the workforce to retire. Many people have negative savings when they are young. That means that they spend more than they earn by taking advantage of school loans. If they had average annual earning and they spent everything they earned on lifestyle and paying back student loans, their lifestyle would look something like this:

 20120910-income-and-lifestyle

20120910-income-and-lifestyle

They would borrow when they were young and pay off the loan when they are older. If they spent the rest of their income on lifestyle, then they would be in big trouble when they approach retirement years. They would be forced to decrease their lifestyle and possibly become dependent on others as there annual earnings decreased. To avoid this, they would have to save, by consuming less than they earn as shown in the graph below. For simplicity, let's assume that they didn't have to take out any school loans.

 20120910-lifestyle-below-income

20120910-lifestyle-below-income

If people saved as they earned more, they would be able to maintain their lifestyle by living off of their savings. How would savings carry them through retirement? By investing. The graph below shows how this could hypothetically happen:

 20120910-income-lifestyle-and-investement

20120910-income-lifestyle-and-investement

If one saved and put their money into investments, he/she could create an income from their investments that would replace their annual earned income that they had to work for. The only way to maintain independence and increase one's lifestyle over time is to consume less than you earn and put your savings into an investment that will grow and provide income without having to work.

Prioritizing Savings

Do you prioritize savings? If you are a millionaire, there is a good chance that you do. According to the author of the book The Millionaire Next Door, people who become millionaires tend to live well below there means by spending only 80% of their income. The other 20% is saved and invested. Many people want to save and intuitively know that they should save more. They might even plan to put whatever is left over at the end of the month into savings. Their monthly flow of money looks something like this:

 present-oriented-flow-of-money

present-oriented-flow-of-money

I call this the present-oriented flow of money. This plan rarely works because there usually isn't anything left over to save. The reality often turns out to be more like this:

 Actual-present-oriented-flow-of-money

Actual-present-oriented-flow-of-money

The wealthy mentioned above "pay themselves first". Before they pay the grocer, or the bank, or the department store, they pay themselves a set percentage of their income. There flow of money looks like this:

 future-oriented-flow-of-money

future-oriented-flow-of-money

Religious people are taught to add one more bucket to their flow of money. That bucket is charity. L. Tom Perry, said:

After paying your tithing of 10 percent to the Lord, you pay yourself a predetermined amount directly into savings. That leaves you a balance of your income to budget for taxes, food, clothing, shelter, transportation, etc. It is amazing to me that so many people work all of their lives for the grocer, the landlord, the power company, the automobile salesman, and the bank and yet think so little of their own efforts that they pay themselves nothing.

 A religious future-oriented flow of money looks like this:

 religious-future-oriented-flow-of-money

religious-future-oriented-flow-of-money

There are religious and secular reasons to give to charity. A study done by the economist Arthur Brooks found that after accounting for variables, those who give to charity tend to make more money as a result of their giving. In other words, if you take two people that have the same religion, income, career, and education and track them over time, the one that gives to charity actually makes about $14,000 more on average than the non-giver. I will write more about charity in the future.

In conclusion, it is more difficult to save when expenses take priority over financial goals. Saving only seems to work if you get into the habit of paying yourself before your other expenses. So follow the example of the wealthy and start saving today.

Why don't Americans save more?

In my last post I showed that most Americans wish they had saved more before they had to retired. Despite that fact, savings rates have been dropping in the United States. The graph below shows the U.S. savings rates in black. The savings rates of Japan and Germany are shown for comparison.

 Savings-rates-20-years

Savings-rates-20-years

Europeans tend to save much more than Americans, and some reports claim that the Chinese save close to 25% of their income. The sources of this data come from the OECD 2011 Factbook. It can be found in a cool interactive graph here. The data isn't perfect because it sometimes counts automatic 401K contributions as expenses instead of savings. But, most economists believe that the general trend is correct.

Here are a few possible reasons why the U.S. savings rate is so low.

(1.) Median household income has been stagnant in the past 10 years and new and attractive goods and services such as iPads and fun vacations entice people to spend more and save less. I guess this is what is often referred to as consumerism.

(2.) Americans sometimes "save" in the form of human capital. They spend their money on education and earnings ability because they can "always earn more later" with higher skills.

(3.) The American tax system discourages savings by taxing investment income and capital gains. According to the economist Steven Landsburg, "The death tax sends a powerful message to rich people: "You can't leave everything to your heirs, so spend now, before it's too late. Burn more fuel. Demand more timber for your mansions, more steel for your private planes, and more fiberglass for your yachts."

(4.) It is relatively easy for the poor in America to get a loan if needed. So why save for a rainy day when one can just borrow easily instead?

(5.) American's also save in the form of home equity hoping that a future home sale will provide some retirement funds.

(6.) And then there is the standard explanation that it seems difficult for people in general to subordinate what they want now for what they want later. Hence, many people tend not to plan for the future and instead live for the present. This is the 'eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die' explanation.

Whatever the reason, everyone would benefit from some serious introspection into why they are not saving more. If everyone did this, we would likely have more savings and less regret in retirement years.

Do Americans save enough?

In my last post I wrote about 3 reasons to save. The first reason is to prepare for rainy days including emergencies or preparing for old age when one cannot work anymore. The second reason is to purchase large items like houses and cars and educations. The third reason is to increase leisure activities like vacations or early retirement. The purpose of this post is to answer the question, "Do Americans save enough?" First, let me define savings. Savings = Income - consumption. If you consume less than you earn, then you have a positive savings rate. If you consume more than you earn then you have a negative savings rate. Negative savings is not categorically bad in every situation. For example, it might make sense for many university students to consume more than they earn by taking advantage of student loans within reasonable limits.

According to some recent studies, Americans say they wish they had saved more for their retirement. According to a survey done by the Consumer Reports magazine's National Research Center, nearly a third of all people at or approaching retirement said their expenses were higher than they had anticipated before retiring. Only 11 percent said expenses were lower than expected.  Also, a survey commissioned by Bankrate and administered by the Princeton Survey Research Associates International asked both retirees and workers questions about retirement realities and expectations. They found that 55% of respondents said they wish they saved more.

 survey-of-retirees-and-workers

survey-of-retirees-and-workers

According to another survey done by Putnam Investments70% of people who already retired within the past 2 to 6 years said that they wish they saved more for retirement and 59% said they wish they saved earlier.

 survey-of-retirees-within-last-2-to-6-years

survey-of-retirees-within-last-2-to-6-years

So to answer the original question, most Americans say that they wish they saved more and earlier for retirement. Listening to the regrets of the elderly should be a powerful lesson to the young. When you retire, you probably won't be wishing that you saved less.

Coming up: Why don't Americans save more?