Saturday, 4 December 2010

UPDATE: What I've been up to so far

It's been just over 3 months since I left employment.  It actually feels like much longer than that, so much has happened already! I thought it would be good to take stock and look back on the things I've been up to so far.

Apologies for another long post, I promise I'll write some shorter ones soon! :) Here goes...

The first item on my todo list when I left was to write the big masterplan, but I quickly realised that could be a bad idea. For the first time in a very long time I had the luxury of unplanned time, so I purposely set out without a master plan. I wanted to spend the first few months with enough space to let random things happen. I did want to set some vague 'goals' though just to give me some direction. So I created some directions of travel that I wanted to explore. I did this rough plan using the technique described here, creating some 'nothing' time and taking a pen and paper along.

My 'Agile' plan has areas of explorations, targets and a first step rather than a detailed timeline

As you can see it's very rough but there was a reason for that. The theory was that if I have a number of diverse areas that I'm always exploring, I'll start to get much more out of life. Rather than plan each as a project with a timeline and task list, I set a target and a first step for each area. I then started to convert this into a dream list with more defined targets and goals. I'm not 100% sure that targets are a good idea, but I'm trying this out so that I can test and measure effectiveness. As a lapsed project manager I was tempted to create a 1 year timeline and fill it with tasks, but I'm exploring a more Agile approach (responding to change rather than planning too far ahead) which allows me to define vague goals and take the first step towards them. It also allows for randomness and serendipity to take me in new directions that I could have never planned for. I'm finding it a more exciting way to live, it takes a bit of trust that things will emerge at the right time, but so far they are doing.

Fitness was an important area for me to focus on, especially as my father died at a young age. I really haven't looked after myself as well as I could if I'm honest. The idea of going to the gym before or after work never appealed to me, and a diet of quick snacks and sandwiches isn't the best way to look after your body. To improve strength I've started doing weight training at home using a high intensity, slow reps to failure technique. I changed my diet to include much more protein, vegetables and beans, and less carbohydrates. For flexibility I signed up to a month of yoga at Hot Power Yoga who currently have a great introductory deal. The other thing that I've been doing is listening to what my body is telling me. I sleep longer and get up slightly later between 8am and 9.30am rather than forcing myself out of bed. My body also tells me when it needs exercising so I generally go for 2 or 3 running sessions a week. The results so far are good, my energy levels are much higher, body fat is very low and muscle tone is improving rapidly. I probably should start taking more measurements to analyse what is working but overall I feel much stronger, more supple and more present in myself. I've just signed up to a 1 month mixed martial arts (MMA) course and also I'll no doubt be trying out the theories in the upcoming Tim Ferriss book, The Four Hour Body when I get my hands on it!

Learning, well this isn't such a success story. I started to learn Spanish by taking one to one lessons, listening to Spanish radio, downloading an English-Spanish dictionary and putting a stack of auidobooks on my phone. Although I started with the best intentions, I was finding that the lack of practice with Spanish speakers meant that things just weren't sinking in to my brain. So for now this is on the back burner. I'm still listening to the audiobooks, but I think I need to be fully immersed and living in a different country to really get the best from any investment in lessons. I'm consoling myself to the fact that I'm making real progress learning/re-learning a whole heap of web building craft skills including html, css, php, python, javascript, photoshop, illustrator etc.. 

Happiness, is a success story so far. I've really never felt as happy in my life! This isn't because I'm not working, if anything it's easy to feel down when you haven't got the community and stimulation that a job provides. It's because I'm making huge progress on the things that I'm identifying that really make me happy. In the past happiness hasn't come easily, but now I feel like I'm getting to know more about myself and am being more honest and authentic to everyone. I think time-freedom is a huge factor in being happy. We all want to be free don't we? I've almost sold my flat! This is probably my biggest achievement. For years I've been tied to a mortgage, but soon I won't have one. I'm really excited about the flexibility and options this will open up. A big short/mid term goal is to be location independent and being able to work this way will hopefully allow me to explore the world more and accelerate my long term goal of finding the perfect place and habitat to live with my family for an extended period. I'm also spending much more time with friends, both old and new and really enjoying hanging out for a few hours rather than rushing off to the next appointment.

Adventure, it's interesting how goals can start to overlap, for example Adventure and Happiness. I set out with the goal of getting my competent crew sailing certificate so that I could have the adventure of crewing yachts more often. But because the flat sale and getting rid of all my unneeded stuff, is taking up a chunk of time, I can't really go off for a week to do the course. But amazingly I found that the sailing club just round the corner from me were looking for volunteers to help out. Tideway Sailability charity provide a fantastic service to people of all abilities getting them out sailing and even racing. The summer season is over but I've still been able to put a few sailing hours in, take out some disabled sailors, and use a little of my marketing skills to begin to get their social media platforms up and running ready for next year. I think anyone who works in marketing and has any sort of conscience can find themselves concerned about the morality of what they are doing. I'd highly recommend using your skills (not just money) to help people wherever you can. They will benefit, and you will also feel better for it, win-win. I've been trying out other forms of adventure such as climbing, but I'm still looking for new things to try. We've also been able to travel more and had trips to Istanbul, the Norfolk coast and spent time with family and old friends in Manchester. Once the flat sale is complete I'll be more free to travel and get more adventurous. Can't wait! I think the biggest thing is that I'm now much more open to adventure and have started to throw myself into more random situations and out of my comfort zone. It makes life so much more exciting.

Three areas that are crossing over in a big way are Creativity, Learning and Business. I started to write this blog just before leaving my job as a way to record what I get up to and also because writing is a very easy way to be creative. I'd highly recommend to anyone that they start a blog, it's a fantastic way to meet new people. It's also a useful way to experiment online, bringing together social channels such as Facebook and Twitter and seeing what people are interested in using tools like and Google analytics. You can learn a hell of a lot about people and technology by trying things out online and seeing what's actually effective, and these days it's incredibly easy with the free tools that are available. I've been very lucky in quickly finding an amazing 'business' partner to 'work' with. 'Business' and 'work' are interesting terms because what we're focusing on is more around 'creating' and 'having fun', it just happens that our first project has the potential to make serious money so I guess it would be classed as business. But primarily we're focusing on getting great ideas rapidly to market, action not talking, building things, real world testing... I'll be writing in detail on what we get up to and our progress in our 'business goals' and our site will be up soon at if this is something you're interested in. It's really exciting to be able to combine creativity, learning and building a business and we're also looking for other like-minded people to join us.

And that leads me on nicely to connections. I've been really surprised at the amount of fascinating, inspiring, supportive people that I've met over the last couple of months. If you read the news too much you get the impression that most people in the world are negative or nasty but that's just not true. The world is full of amazing people and you just need to get out there and meet them. In big cities like London it's so easy just to hang out with your circle of friends and never meet anyone new. So go to random events, work in public spaces, say hello to strangers, strike up conversations, hang around instead of rushing off. Comment on blog posts, email people who interest you, pick up the phone. Who knows what exciting new directions your life could take just by speaking to someone new!?

Overall I think the approach is working. I could be moving faster in one direction and smashing goals quicker, but actually the variety, balance and randomness of the approach is what makes it interesting and enjoyable.

I'd love to hear more about what you think of this approach and how you plan (or don't plan) your life.

All the best and thanks for taking the time to visit,


  1. Hey Michael,

    the Bulb Club, great way to invest your creativity, great name too.

    Good to hear about your experiences so far. Do you have a deadline set for yourself, to support your new lifestyle?

    All the best,

  2. Hey Niels, thanks for reading to the end, I really didn't expect anyone to get that far! :D

    At the moment I can support my lifestyle as it stands for quite a long time, so my deadline is quite a while off. I've reduced my outgoings massively to help, but am still able to have an enjoyable life. I'm not a stoic, but now think hard about what I spend my savings on. It's amazing the amount of things you simply don't need to spend money on.

    I guess the point of lifestyle redesign though is to totally recreate your world and this will take money. So the focus right now is on investing a portion of time into testing ideas that have the potential to generate my target income or more.

    The key to all this is balance, if I want to make money I'm fortunate that I can. And I also believe that I can get a business up and running quite quickly and easily. Opportunities are everywhere, you only need to be open to them. But I only want to invest my time into projects that excite me and that fit the criteria I have defined.

    Have you got anything planned yet Niels or are you enjoying the randomness and serendipity that life provides when you don't plan too much?

    Cheers mate,

  3. A bit late reading this I'm afraid! Seems like you have got on pretty well for just 3 months!

    I like your diagram approach, I think I'm going to read a bit more into the 'agile' approach. I have wasted many an hour (or days!) by making lists and spreadsheets as I tend to plan too much and I am trying to avoid that lately.

    Anyway, there seems to be a fair bit of overlap in what would be my main categories - except maybe fitness and adventure. I am however blaming the fact that I am 30 weeks pregnant for that :)

    Look forward to reading more...

    Lucy x

  4. Hey Lucy,

    I would imagine pregnancy is one of the biggest adventures you can have! Along with the following years.

    How is your blog coming along??