6 min read

Chiara’s Personal Operating System v1

In the video, "Most Self-Help Advice Is Wrong", Cal Newport talks about his Personal Operating System.

What do you with all this [self help] information? What you're trying to do here is maintain a Personal Operating System.

I have a personal operating system that specifies how I live my life, what values are important to me, what commitments I have, what actions I do and don't do.

I use the personal operating system metaphor because we think about operating systems as something you upgrade all the time. There's no notion of “I have to figure out THE right operating system for living.” You want some operating system and you'll be upgrading this regularly.

One of the big sources of these upgrades is this balanced, intelligent encounter with self help. ... In the place where you write down your operating system, you capture and refine the big ideas you encounter in self help.

It's from 24:20 to 26:50 in this video.

I felt super inspired to not only write down my "Personal Operating System", but also to take the metaphor even further and create a Trello board of "feature requests", to capture and prioritize ideas for self improvement.

Below is a copy of "Chiara’s Personal Operating System v1". It's pretty rough since it's written for myself, but I hope you find it useful and inspiring.

What is this?

  • It is a document that lists and describes the main processes in my life. It also links to the current outcome of those processes. For example, how do I decide what to work on? I set goals for the year. Here’s how I do it. And here are my 2024 goals.
  • Each version describes the current process as it is. It is not aspirational.
  • Like a computer OS, I upgrade it all the time. It also contains a “How to Upgrade” process.
  • It is versioned. Take inspiration from how versioning is done in computer operating systems.

What is the goal?

  • It helps me remember what works in my life, so I can keep doing it.
  • It helps me remember why (motivation) and how (process) I do things.
    • For example, when I started my Monthly Personal Update a few years ago, I was super motivated. But now a few years later, the reason is hazy.
    • Plus I don’t have a process for doing it, so I keep reinventing the wheel every time, making it harder than it should be.
    • In contrast, I curate and edit the monthly Product Pulse at Forto. At first, it was difficult. But because I have a process that I follow, it is now quite easy. I don’t feel like I need creativity and motivation to do it.
  • It helps me systematically, rather than haphazardly, upgrade my life. This includes:
    • Listing, “What hasn’t worked for me?"
    • Having a kanban board of “Feature Requests” and “Bug Reports", where I can capture ideas, prioritize them, and work on them one at a time

What questions do I want this to answer?

  1. How do I decide what to work on?
    1. Between the end of December and start of January, I review last year and set goals for the next year. I set a maximum of 3 goals and ask myself, "If I could accomplish only ONE thing this year, what would it be?"
    2. I keep myself accountable and maximize the likelihood of achieving my goals by involving other people. For example, for my 3 goals:
      1. Business - I committed to writing a Weekly Update and sending it to Leslie every week. I created a “Weekly Checkpoint” time block on my calendar every Friday 1pm to 1:45pm to do ths. This Weekly Checkpoint is where I add “review-like” things I want to do every week. The currently checklist is:
        1. Update Leads and KPIs in Workstation
        2. Write Gen Propel Update
        3. Review Life Goals + Write Last Week Achievement
        4. Review Habits
      2. Money - I committed to writing a Monthly Net Worth Report to Leslie. I have a “Create + Send Leslie Net Worth Report” time block monthly on the last Monday 2:30pm to 3:15pm. The next one is on March 25.
      3. German - I texted Mia and Wiebke to schedule Deutsches Abendessens with them. I now have a scheduled monthly Deutsches Abendessen with Mia.
  2. How do I get things done?
    1. I have and maintain a Project List in Things.
      1. I use Tiago Forte’s description of project. It has an outcome (usually starting with a verb) and it has a deadline.
        1. This: “Publish personal operating system v1. Deadline: Sun 10 Mar"
        2. Not This: “Learn storytelling”
      2. I want to ensure the below, but I don’t have a system for doing it. I often just do it when I start to feel overwhelmed, pick the 3-5 most important, and archive almost everything else.
        1. The list has a maximum of 5 projects
        2. It’s always prioritized from what I want and need to work on next
        3. The outcome - how I know when it’s done - is written down (especially when it has changed)
        4. The deadline is written down (especially when it has moved)
    2. I put everything on my calendar. If it’s not on the calendar, it very likely won’t get done. I create 15-, 30-, 60-, 90-minute time blocks and set a (physical) timer. I often use brain.fm.
    3. How do I deal with procrastination?
      1. On days when I don’t feel like doing anything, I ask, “What is my Most Important Task?” Then I set a timer for and tell myself to do it for (only!) 15mins. Once I start, it’s almost always easy to keep going.
      2. I tell a friend what I want to accomplish and schedule a meeting in 1 day or 1 week, whatever is appropriate, and say, “I should have finished this thing by the time of our meeting. I want to show you what I've done."
      3. During rough times in my life when I didn’t want to do ANYTHING at all, I scheduled a “Daily Show & Tell” with a friend, where the goal is to just commit to and show 1 Most Important Thing per day.
    4. Habits
      1. Anki - I have an alarm for 6:25am and usually wake up between 6:30am and 7am. The first thing I do when I wake up everyday is learn my German flashcards (in Anki) while drinking my coffee. This usually takes 15-30mins.
      2. Gen Propel MIT - I have a time block for “Gen Propel Most Important Thing” from 8-9am every weekday. I usually do work on Gen Propel (last week, the focus was on finishing the copy for the sales page). Even though I wrote a weekly update to Leslie, I still don’t feel like I’m doing enough, or that I’m doing the most important things. I think I want to track and review this more.
      3. Fitness
        1. I have these time blocks, but I’m less diligent with them than I like, especially with gym.
        2. Run, every WF 7-8am.
        3. Gym, every TTh 6:30-7:30pm
        4. Long run, every Sunday 9:30-11:30am
        5. Padel, every Sunday 2:30pm to 4pm
        6. I do end up doing enough fitness, but I’d like to be more diligent with them, or at least track and review what I’m doing every week.
        7. For example, I see that I did 6 activities last week, from March 2 to 8. Here’s what I did. It was a total of 5.5 hours.
          1. Sat, March 2 - Gym (30mins)
          2. Sun, March 3 - Padel (1h)
          3. Sun, March 3 - Run 10K (1.5h)
          4. Tue, March 5 - Gym after work (30mins)
          5. Wed, March 6 - Run 5k (30mins)
          6. Fri, March 8 - Padel (1.5h)
      4. Digital Sunset - I have a “Digital Sunset” alarm at 9pm, to turn off my phone. I’m pretty good at turning it off when I’m at home, except when we eat dinner late and I want to listen to a podcast while washing the dishes. It’s also quite annoying when I’m outside, for example, when we watched Dune from 6:30pm to 9:30pm and the alarm suddenly rang.
  3. What other important things do I do?
    1. Monthly-ish Personal Update
    2. Life Goals (document)
    3. Smile File (document)
    4. My phone is on DND almost 24/7
    5. I have a habit of reaching out to people I find interesting.
    6. Smash Through Books
    7. I love playing padel.
    8. I now limit my coffee to 3 cups a day. I drink L-Theanin when it makes me anxious.
    9. I drink Vitamin C almost every day.
    10. I drink magnesium every day few day before my period, supposedly to help with period pain. I’m not consistent with it.
    11. I do my best to do less by saying no. When I fail, I muster the courage to say I decided not to do something anymore. Recent things I said no to in order to focus on Gen Propel:
      1. Gave up my daily German lessons - even though I feel like I could have taken it all the way to fluency this year
      2. I promised to help a friend with his startup and committed 10-20 hours but I wasn’t doing it and it was making me feel guilty. I told the friend that I decided not to do it anymore and that I’m sorry. The friend was totally hfine with it!
      3. I told Leslie I am deferring getting my driver’s license next year.
      4. I think it was Derek Sivers that said in order to become successful, you need to say YES to almost everything, but in order to stay successful, you need to say NO to almost everything. I’ve found this to be true.
  4. What hasn’t worked for me?
  5. How do I deal with Feature Requests?