Energy & Expectations
How to ritualize a retrospective, choose your appetite, and manage energy
Happy New Year! Here are three useful things to kick off your…
A ritual of retrospectives
New Year’s Resolutions are forward-looking—commitments we make (and likely don’t keep) with ourselves to create a future we’d like to inhabit. But if we don’t consider the past, we might set our sights on the wrong destination.
Retrospectives are a means to reflect on past performance and garner lessons to apply in the future. One-off retrospectives are good, but regular retrospectives are best. Here’s how to create a retrospective ritual:
Pick a cadence. Reflecting on a whole year is too daunting, but reflecting on a single day is too much overhead. Weekly or monthly retrospectives fall in that goldilocks zone—enough to make it worth it without being overwhelming. I do it weekly.
Follow a format. Start simple and evolve. Crack out a journal and list bullet points under a few headings. I find that three things (surprised?) are sufficient:
Highlights. What worked well?
Lowlights. Where did you fall short?
Learnings. What did you learn?
A simplistic example for Turtle’s Pace in December 2021:
With resolutions, our eyes are often bigger than our stomachs. It’s easy to set big, hairy, audacious, pie in the sky goals without the time or energy to pursue them.
Basecamp, a company that builds collaboration tools, runs many internal projects with appetite-based planning. Instead of saying, “We want a new email app with XYZ features by July,” they might say, “Solving this email problem is worth three months of effort.” The team then decides how much of the problem they can solve in three months.
Appetite-based planning sounds odd and idealistic, but I’ve found it surprisingly grounding—much more aligned with the reality of my time and energy while setting healthy boundaries. How to do appetite-based planning:
Determine capacity. How much time and energy do you have? For instance, I can handle about 60 to 90 minutes of writing per day, but no more. That’s about ten hours per week.
Make a list of desires. What projects, goals, or resolutions do you want to pursue. For instance, I want to work on this newsletter, short stories, a novel, and essays.
Allocate capacity. Do you want to “sample” a bunch of things or have one or two full meals? I’m very hungry for this newsletter and short story writing, but I don’t have the appetite for novel writing this year.
Red, yellow, and green energy
Imagine you could plug yourself into a power outlet and work all night. Like a computer, you could crank away around the clock at a steady pace.
Fortunately or unfortunately, humans don’t work like this (yet), so we must deal with the moist, temperamental machines inside our heads. Unlike computers, our brains perform at varying efficiency throughout the day.
Think of your mental energy like a tri-color gas gauge. Sometimes, it’s on green (a full tank), and other times it’s on yellow (a half-tank). And, inevitably, it drops to red (empty).
Despite the volatility, this indicator seems to follow a pattern during the day. The pattern is different for everyone based on circadian rhythms, caffeine consumption, genetics, etc.; but this is what it looks like for me:
What if we scheduled our work to optimize energy?
Green. Awake & alert but also calm and creative. Great deep work potential—heavy thinking, problem-solving, presentations.
Yellow. Awake, calm, and average energy. Suitable for run-of-the-mill work—meetings, operational tasks, etc.
Red. Diminished energy. OK for work of little consequence—email or chores—but best for a nap.
A few interesting things: