At some point, making coffee in the morning turned into an 8 year old mindless and dull habit. I started working from home. The lack of a commute and familiarity meant no natural opportunities to disrupt these types of habits. The habit continued on, day after day.  I walked into the kitchen, grabbed a filter, threw a couple scoops of coffee in, added water, and waited a few moments. Then I drank my coffee with as little thought as I put into making it.

This never struck me as odd until I was talking with a friend who was tweaking his coffee habit. At first it was simply not drinking any, then moving on to the bulletproof coffee (disclaimer: I absolutely hate that site, but according to my friend it works). Suddenly I felt odd. I considered myself a coffee snob, but never at home. 90% of my time was spent doing exactly the opposite of how I self-identified.

A highlight of every trip I took was discovering the very best coffee shops. I'd order their specialty, slurp it delicately–yes, you can slurp delicately; this requires either practice or delusions. I returned home and also returned back to my soulless coffee. There was not any strong reason to change. I was never quite enjoying it, but I was not disliking the coffee either. After I shared my friends experience with my wife, she said that she didn't see the benefit of drinking coffee every day either. Worse, she wasn't even sure if she enjoyed it at all.

When faced with the realities of a lifeless habit, wasting away opportunities day after day, there are two possible outcomes. The first is to ignore it and make excuses, allow our brains to attenuate the discomfort. Or we can improve the habit, in my case both brewing and consuming. The first step for me was to put away my trusty Cuisinart 12 Cup Automatic Brewing Station. Despite my soulless, bland, existence I own many instruments for making coffee nearly every way there is. I looked at each apparatus trying to decide what was the most reasonable to use early in the morning. This was important, this is how I was starting my day.

In other words, I planned.

Planning made all the difference. One book I constantly pick up and flip through is 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It has evolved as I have grown; different habits and sections stand out, nearly raising up out of the page and set with glowing ink. As I evaluated my coffee habit and created a plan, I realized it was the perfect opportunity to explore the final habit: Sharpen the Saw.

The Upward Spiral, from the 7th Habit of Highly Effective People: Sharpen the Saw

The Upward Spiral and Perfect Coffee

As soon as I had a plan to improve my coffee I was eager to get started. I woke up and then created another plan specifically for that day. Each day I learned something, and the next day I applied that knowledge.

How much coffee, the temperature of the water, the brewing cycle, and other variables were set based on previous learning. Sometimes I discover something new, feeling as though I reached a new undiscovered peak and could more accurately survey my surroundings.

At this point I should make it clear that coffee is a metaphor. Though I did, in fact, use this method for making better coffee.

Zen and the Art of Coffee Brewing

It's easy to think life is much more complicated, more demanding, and simply more difficult than it is. Certainly when pursuing lofty goals many things, including luck, have to fall into place. Stories and feelings of failure swirl around and dissuade us from pursuing better things. But all of that is either a fear, an excuse, or a lie. If we plan, life is simple.

Doing is much easier than planning. Anybody can follow simple instructions, and that is what planning brings. When things are difficult or feel insurmountable, the problem starts with the plan. Maybe it is inadequate time, or perhaps skipping the plan altogether. Without a specific plan, any and all action will be in a nonspecific direction.

Reviewing what has been done is where the magic happens. I've already written about this recurring, daily habit. This same strategy should be expanded over a longer term. When we review our efforts it fills us with a sense of appreciation and acknowledgement. It is far too easy to be sucked down into a never ending Sisyphean life. We constantly work yet feel no progress. We toil away and find no harvest. No wonder this happens if you don't set aside time to review. I review my life every week, scheduling a block of time to sit and contemplate and also take notes. I ask myself a few questions:

  1. What did I do really well? What could have gone better and how?
  2. What opportunity did I capture, what did I knowingly pass up?
  3. Did my actions this week advance me towards my focused areas?

Without a plan, these questions would be impossible to answer. They are sharp questions that puncture the fragile balloon wall of ego, optimism, and delusion.

My Weekly Plan

There is a small amount of setup that has to be done before this. I got this idea from the book 18 Minutes. In there, Peter Bregman asks, "What are the 5 areas in life that will matter most?" These are the areas that 80% of the enjoyment, growth, and fulfillment originate. No more than 5. Review these annually, but they don't need to change every year. My favorite area of focus is, and has been, Enrich my relationships with family and friends.

Sunday evening I set aside 30 minutes to set a plan for the upcoming week. I then list out 3 things to do each week that align to one or more of my areas of focus. I only list items I can actually get done. Every single one of these items are Important but hardly ever Urgent. This makes them hard to get done, and the first things to cast aside when the going gets tough.

Every day I defend against that urge to procrastinate. Every day I read my list. If I've completed a task I think about ways to make it better. If I haven't I decide when I will get it done (which sometimes is a great measure of just how much I'm procrastinating).

Finally on Friday evening or Saturday morning I spend about 15 minutes reviewing the previous week. This is where I get to ask myself the difficult questions of failure and celebrate the victories of the week. The celebration of completed tasks brings me a few more steps up the mountain of personal growth.

So how about you?

What are you planning over the next week?

What are of your life is the most important, where you reap the most rewards?