Koanic’s First Law of Power Leveling
|May 25, 2013||Posted by Koanic under Uncategorized|
First let’s define our objective:
Complete the critical path to the next level in the shortest possible time.
Towards the fulfillment of what set of interest do your levels progress? That is defined by your faction. Think World of Warcraft factions – orcs, elves, humans, etc:
- If you are a selfish bastard, you may have a faction of one. Simple enough.
- If you are an abstract selfless bastard like me, your faction is an ideological cause.
- If you are a selfless deep-bonding introvert, your faction may be your close relationships, aka tribe. Hopefully you have some that are worthwhile.
In practice, most people are a blend. The important thing is to pick a faction that fits your hardware and software.
Now we can roughly sketch our level progression. But what is the critical path to the next level?
That is an optimization problem. Finding the answer requires a good grasp of life strategy. Hackers such as Tim Ferriss, Ramit Sethi, MJ DeMarco, Cal Newport, and David Allen, and knowledge domains such as the paleo diet and Game are relevant.
However, it turns out that since we are all human beings, there are some rules that apply regardless of faction or current level. Here is the first:
If you can make a non-trivial health gain, expend no willpower on anything else.
Most expenditures of willpower are just that – expenditures. You use the willpower and it is gone, unavailable for anything else. Health is different, in that it is a willpower investment, not a willpower expenditure.
The limiting factor in your leveling is quality sustained effort. The more willpower you have, the more and better quality sustained effort (QSE) you produce.
This chart from XKCD gives an idea of the investment / payoff chart.
The chart is talking about tasks. Obviously if you gain working time by improving health instead of optimizing tasks, the result is the same.
But actually, we can view health as a task. It is the default, #1 priority task that cannot be bumped – your autonomic biological functioning. If this falls below a certain level, no QSE occurs, no matter what. The better it functions, the more and better QSE you produce.
Consider a 10 point health scale, where 0 is dead, and 10 is the most biologically superhuman version of yourself possible. Think roided out on smart drugs, high on life, perfect nutrition, perfect sleep, perfect physique, “on” all the time, etc.
There are 24 hours in a day. So here is your productivity function:
QSE = (waking hours)^health
If you are dead, you are never awake, and your productivity function is undefined at O^0, since we do not presume to judge the afterlife.
If you work 15 hours a day, and get a crappy 6 hours of sleep a night, dropping your health to optimistically a 4, you are at 15^4 = 5.1 * 10^4 daily QSE.
If you cut down to a lazy 8 hours of work per day, and get your full 9 hours sleep, then use the remainder of the time to optimize your health up to a 6, you are at 8^6 = 2.6 * 10^5 daily QSE.
For the math challenged, that’s a 4x improvement while working 7 hours less per day and feeling vastly better.
To make this formula work, you need to be familier with principles such as Pareto’s Law. If you are just a widget monkey, you only need to be awake enough to make widgets. Learn how to use your higher creative capacities, so you can justify the expense of maintaining them. Learn how to use your social charisma, so you can justify being healthy enough to exert it. Learn how to manage your information, so you can justify being clearheaded enough to grok it. Etc.
Otherwise being healthy will feel good and improve performance per time linearly, but may not deliver exponential results that dramatically outweigh the advantages of grinding in half-crappy mode.
Interestingly, you can’t learn the things that will change your results curve while you are overworked and below a 5 on health. They are too cognitively demanding. So in order to learn how to make use of being healthy, you must first be reasonably healthy and have available time.
For most people, this means making deep, painful cuts. Do less. Let your current performance level drop. There’s no other way to free up capacity.
Then, focus all your willpower on raising your health. Let everything else slide, as far as non-disastrously possible. Disaster being defined as, would prevent you from raising your health.
Let me repeat: Focusing your willpower means exerting no willpower on anything else. Let it all go.
It should take about a week to instill a new health related habit. Your habits should carry you through the induction period, preventing the deprecated areas of your life from going totally haywire.
** Case study
I noticed that I was having trouble going to bed, falling asleep, and that I was also waking up too early, resulting in mild to moderate sleep deprivation. This resulted in an unacceptable decrease in productivity, mood, willpower and acuity. I know this both as medical fact and by self-observation.
There are many pressing concerns and claims on my time. However, they are all possible expenditures of willpower. The sleep problem is a willpower investment opportunity. Therefore I dropped all other concerns and focused exclusively on sleep.
To start my solution process, I thought obsessively about the problem. I analyzed and reviewed it from end to end. What was I looking for? A root cause, one thing that was driving the entire cycle – an easy point of change. In order to do this, I had to understand the entire causal chain, compare historical periods, etc.
Any time I started worrying about something less significant, I aborted the thought and returned to the sleep problem. No willpower expenditure = no worrying. You will find it quite freeing to only worry about the next habit on your critical path.
I identified a few different secondary causes, but as usual there was one prime cause: a habit of staying too late at the office. This initiated the cascade, and had to be fixed, or else the problem would be intractable. If I made fixing the office departure time my primary focus, the easier secondary ones would fall also into line.
So I had found my critical path. Now to design my habit change method.
I copied the appropriate mnemonic phrase to my hand (“sundowner”), and resolved to write a tick mark beneath it for every 15 minutes past the official stop time that I stayed at the office. I plan not to worry about anything else except this for a week, or until the habit is locked in.
I know that this severe prioritization is worthwhile, because I have observed that when healthy my natural work ethic, natural intelligence, and learned life strategy produce outsized results. Therefore I can safely “let go” of the general willpower expenditure, and focus on the specific.
When I was young, abstract conscientiousness was perhaps my defining feature. Thus I attempted to douse everything in willpower, out of a powerful sense of all-encompassing duty.
Now that I am older, I know far better just how all-encompassing duty is. But I understand that willpower is much more like a hammer than a garden hose, and a well-run life more like a wooden house than a vegetable garden.
Each nail is a habit. Placed correctly, the nails will hold up a house. But you can only pound one nail at a time. And if you don’t give your complete attention to the current nail, you will probably ruin the nail and smash your fingers. But the most useless thing is to run around a lumber pile, smacking random pieces of wood frantically with your hammer, as if things like nails and architect’s blueprints didn’t exist.