TL;DR: If you want more time, there is improving healthspan (the length of your life when you are fully functional), and productivity. This post will focus on healthspan and a proposed methodology for improving it. Hint: you don’t get time, you make it.
A personal update
I’m excited to share the launch of kalibra.ai: a platform for personalised health and longevity, delivering real time personalised actions aimed at improving our healthspan. The primary differentiation for Kalibra is one of seeking balance between our 6 pillars of health: Nourish, Move, Rest, Connect, Reflect and Grow.
Recognising that personalised actionable insight is key to the journey of putting more years into our life, and more life into our years, Kalibra’s AI algorithms organise all the relevant data about you (wearables, biomarkers, digital markers, social and emotional factors) to present a real-time status of your health, and what your highest leverage action is at this moment.
It might seem like a quantum leap from finance, but to me it is the most exciting area of human development at the moment, and I have been very happy to have spent the last 2 years in the weeds of this fascinating project. If you don’t really care about origin stories, just go to www.kalibra.ai and take a look. If you do, here it is.
Should I read this?
Whether consciously or otherwise, we make investment decisions every day. We are constantly deciding how to spend not just money, but time, attention, and energy…
However only one of those resources is non replenishable – time. I wanted to dive deeper into how we spend and invest this most precious resource. It got me thinking:
- Can we actually get more time?
- And like with money, to make time, do we need to invest time?
- If we invest time, how do we measure the return?
Thoreau once said that the price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it. It is the only true currency, the only truly scarce resource. It’s free, but it’s priceless; you can’t own it, but you can spend it.
The timeless paradox of this, if you’ll pardon the pun, is that we all intuitively know the above, yet time is what we all want most, but we actually often use the worst. If that’s something that speaks to you, read on.
The most democratic resource
It is an astronomical certainty that we all get about 10,000 minutes a week, but the density, or utility that we get out of them varies greatly. As I cross into the stage of my life where it is no longer practical to have the precise number of candles on my birthday cake, I am often left wondering: “if time is the only currency, how can I get more of it”? And beyond this, how do I improve the quality of the time that I have? I have been a compulsive optimiser all my life, but it has always felt unstructured, inefficient and somewhat sporadic.
It is worth noting that there are two ways to get more time – you can put more years into your life, or more life into your years (i.e. change the balance of kronos and kairos). This note addresses the former, while the latter is dealt with in this post.
Maximise the work you DON’T do
There is a balance to be struck between the art of living well and long (as perhaps best described in Dan Buetttner’s Blue zones), which relies on time tested principles. At the other extreme, we have cutting edge science, where new breakthroughs seemingly arrive at blitz speed, threatening to upend what little we hold as true in how to optimise our healthspan.
In reality, there is no right or wrong path, just trade offs. Plus, it’s not productive if you are sacrificing too much of your time optimising for an uncertain outcome (longevity, healthspan). We have to strike a balance between putting more years into our life, and more life into our years. Diane Ackerman said it best:
As an example, we all have someone in our lives called James (inevitably) who has a washboard stomach, ambrosial breath and seemingly unending ability to absorb all that life throws at him without pausing his Instagram machine. All the while, he alternates insane workout and diet regimens with scientific paper reviews and clearly outlined 5 step programmes on how to be just like him. And for every James, there is a Jane–the female version, who is even more of a superhuman, as she probably manages children, a cooking show and a fitness clothing line as well.
Assume, for the moment, that you are not James or Jane.
Not to dismiss James (no, not envious at all, honest), but in going that far out in one extreme, one has to make sacrificial choices: where one eats, the social circle they share, the pleasures they give up, the injuries, the immune system compromises that hard work often imposes. They’ve found their 80/20, but copying it may leave you starving, shivering, miserable and with far fewer dinner party invitations. No judgment, just illustrating that, no, you can’t have it all. Even James and Jane have their own shadows.
Our job is to figure out exactly how far up the James (or Jane) curve we want to be, and figure out the MED, the minimum effective dose, of work we have to perform to get there. In other words, let’s maximise the work we don’t do.
And perhaps we could turn that journey into something Strava-like, which we might call performative health for now. We see that as a state where you know where you are, what the best next action to take is and then execute it with intention, always with the motivation and tools to do it successfully.
A goal is a dream with a deadline
Over the last few years I have reduced my time objectives to a simple, specific goal: to dance hip-hop with my wife at my great-granddaughter’s wedding (or whatever ritual there is to be held at the time). You can call this form of goal setting backcasting. This, of course, begs the question – how can I ensure a trajectory that gets me there? This is important, because falling below this trajectory early on will make it exponentially more difficult to reach my goal.
What would I have to start doing to make that not only possible, but likely? I’m a forty-something male. I grew up in relative geographic proximity to Chernobyl. I’ve had had three knee interventions that were lifestyle-related. And so, the leading indicators of this future dance performance are not fantastic. But my objective is set.
The solution to the above challenge, I concluded, was to prioritise improving my healthspan, and to put in place a system to help me achieve that. Why a system? Because I need something to measure traction, and a clear set of metrics to do so. Ideally hierarchical. And integrated. And dynamic (that’s for another time).
I know what you may be thinking – it’s all genes, they determine what happens. We all have an Aunt Agatha that smoked and drank gin until she was 124, poo-pooed her doctor’s advice and never walked more than a few meters a day. And yet, she outlived all her grandchildren, and died on a trapeze in the circus. Amen.
From research to me-search
The plural of the Agatha anecdote is not data, however. Yes, our genes matter greatly. But they are like a set of default instructions for our body – we may activate them fully or partially, or not at all. We can’t change our genes, but we can do a lot to change our destiny through action. More specifically, we need to adopt our lifestyle in a way that mitigates key risks. And the only way to do this is to get to know our personal condition well, and individualise our action plan.
There is a very important filter to apply to all manners of research on the topic of personalised health and improving healthspan. Since we are all different, research is far less valuable than me-search, i.e. experimenting and learning about what works for us, not a randomised control trial cohort that may have nothing to do with our phenotype. This is a key concept worth repeating – there is unlikely to be a double blind, randomised controlled study of what works for your particular phenotype. You’re on your own.
The art of the possible
We know that it’s possible to design lifestyle changes that will improve our healthspan, almost irrespective of our starting point.
The trouble is, that it’s really hard to know what to prioritise – the concepts are few, but the methods are many. There are thousands of books on the topic, not to mention the ongoing clickbait attack on our senses from every media angle.
What we need is a feedback system – figuring out the efficiency of time invested with objective markers and then optimising for a venn diagram of 3 things:
- What is good for me
- What I’ll actually do consistently
- What my environment supports
And this is where we’ll likely falter. The siren call of what passes for longevity and healthspan today inadvertently prioritises molecules rather than lifestyle changes – you can charge more for a new compound than you can, say for, teaching someone how to fast. This means that in our collective psyche, the fountain of youth lies outside of us, not within. I believe this to be false. So we start with lifestyle and action, not a magic pill for longevity.
What’s your budget? I mean in minutes.
Let’s get specific. Of the 10,000 minutes in our weekly budget, approximately 6000 are spoken for between work and sleep, leaving 4000 minutes for all the good stuff. That is an enormous quantum of time – 100 separate 40-minute periods! Of course, in practice, little of that is available for truly discretionary stuff, especially something with a long and uncertain payoff like healthspan and longevity.
James Clear observes that the cost of our good habits is in the present, but that of the bad habits is in the future. This is the tension we have to manage when we think about a time budget. And humans are not great at imagining themselves as their future self.
Aside from working out, eating and doing all the normal things, it seems that the maximum realistic budget for investing in the future is perhaps 10-12 minutes a day. Even that might be a stretch – I imagine 5 is doable, 10-12 is optimal. In my opinion, that’s the key constraint to manage. For more mental gymnastics on time, here’s an interesting visualisation.
First things first
So we have a goal, we have a constraint, and a budget. The temptation would be to next develop a grand strategy. This is where I take a different tack and lean on that infinite fountain of practical wisdom: the US Marine corps. They have a saying that “amateurs talk strategy, professionals talk logistics and sustainability.”
Since we are playing a highly complex, uncertain and hopefully infinite game, the rules keep changing as new information comes in. So, a sensible approach would be to determine what’s most important, and keep this first, at all times. Then we organise the logistics around maintaining focus on priorities.
And while our bodies and brains work more or less the same way, we all have distinctly different priorities, in terms of what gives us maximum bang for our 5-12 minute budget. Call it our personal 80/20, the lead domino. Once we find it, we need to figure out a way to sustain our effort, as human attention is—at least for me, and, from what I can see, for most—very, very fleeting. This is where things get very personal, and this is the key problem our team at Kalibra is looking to solve.
Three mental models
Still with me? To recap, we’ve outlined three principles:
- specific goal setting;
- time budgeting;
- and an 80/20 prioritisation, subject to the MED (minimum effective dose).
Of course, it sounds ambitious, but that’s where I now find myself, a kite in a hurricane, trying to build a platform that enables everyone with the same passion for living to have precisely that ability: performative health in one app and delivered in a way that makes optimising our bodies and minds genuinely manageable and enjoyable.
They say that time is the fire in which we burn. Well, we want to get that fire just right. If you’d like to join us on this journey, you can read more about the philosophy behind Kalibra, or you can just message me. I’m all ears.