Four Quarters

I’ve been thinking a lot about “waking up on the wrong side of the bed”. What I’ve been finding is that if I don’t sleep well, or if I let myself go into distractions too early in the day, it’s really easy for me to blow entire days in terms of productivity.

This is related to the “catastrophising” that I talked about earlier. I really need ways to pull myself out of a tailspin.

There are a few helpful ways to think about this. Noticing that things are going wrong is the first step. I honestly think that Mindfulness Meditation brings the heat when it comes to this. It lets you sit back and observe while your life is going on, which can help give you the frontal lobe push (the rider) to realize that things aren’t going the way you want them to. Then using the five second rule to get back on track is pretty great.

But what happens when you’ve gone down a rabbit hole and completely blown your morning? Sometimes this happens because you distract yourself, other times the hot water heater explodes at home, the kids are acting up and the dogs are sick. How do you recover your day?

Enter the four-quarters solution. You’ll hear NFL coaches saying “just win the quarter” especially when their teams are playing from behind. They make the game smaller and try to win each piece. Even if they don’t win the game, by winning the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th quarters, they keep trying and give themselves the best chance of winning.

If you treat the day as a single block, you can only win or lose the day. That means that if you start out poorly, mentally you might tell yourself “what does it matter? I’ve already lost the day.” The challenge that I’m trying on right now is this: break the day up into four quarters.

For example. I go to bed around 9:30 or 10pm, and wake up at 6am. That means that I’m awake for 16 hours or so. So I naturally have four quarters to my day. 6-10, 10-2, 2-6, 6-10. Here’s the recommendation. Set a limited number of goals (maybe 3) to achieve in each quarter. Then simply try to win each quarter.

For instance:

Q1:

  • Wake up with the alarm clock, make my bed, weigh and measure
  • Do my morning routine
  • Start deep work (90 minutes)

Q2:

  • Finish deep work (90 minutes)
  • prepare and eat a healthy lunch
  • Shallow work (90 minutes)

Q3:

  • Walk Dogs
  • Workout & Shower
  • Prepare Dinner

Q4:

  • Eat dinner with my wife (no devices!)
  • Read
  • PM routine

This is just an example, yours will be different. Let’s say I completely blow my first quarter. I can still win the day if I go 2/3 for quarter two, 2/3 for quarter three, and 3/3 for quarter four. It helps stop the blowup cycle of catastrophizing by breaking the day up into smaller chunks and focusing me on winning that four-hour block.

I think a lot about a concept that I call “playing winnable games”. This means that you can set yourself up for success or for failure based on how you frame your goals. You have to take a look at yourself and say, “can I win the game that I’ve set up for myself today?”

If you set yourself the goal of 100% clean eating today, plus you’re going to start lifting an Arnold-in-his-prime double split, plus you’re going to finally learn Japanese, plus you’re going to kill it at work and at home, is that a winnable game? Can you do all of those things? Absolutely. You might even be able to maintain it for half a week. But over time, something’s going to go wrong, you’re going to fall behind, and you’re going to go out for pizza and blow the entire thing off.

If you want to bench press 405 lbs, but you only bench 135 now, you don’t start by going to the gym and trying to bench 405. You build up to it. Play a winnable game and try to get 135 for two today. Then do a little more next time.

If you want to eat healthier than you are, play a winnable game and make one meal better today. Then do it again tomorrow. 

If you want to learn something, play a winnable game and study for an hour a day, don’t try to study for 8 hours today. Then do it through the entire semester. 

You would be much better served by taking a small bite of your goals right now, and another small bite tomorrow than biting off more than you can chew today.

Here’s the thing. I think we overestimate how much we can do in a day and underestimate what we can do in a month or a year. Success over the course of a year is about putting together a string of winning days, one after the other. And as we’ve explored in this piece, winning your day is really about winning the quarters. Winning the quarters is about winning the hours. And each hour by itself is going to seem insignificant. By itself, it is. But brick-by-brick, hour by hour, day by day, the insignificant becomes significant. (Protip – if something’s working, don’t stop doing it.)

 

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