I Found My Passion Using a Tracking Method Inspired by Jim Collins

What do I want to do with my life?” is the wrong question. Here’s how to ask the right one.

Sergey Faldin
Nov 6 · 10 min read
Photo by tookapic via Pixabay.

I’ve worked extensively with both life coaches and corporations (like Starbucks Russia and Heineken). Everyone talks about the importance of finding ‘happiness’ through doing the work you love.

And yet, nobody really gives a definite framework on how to achieve it.

For most of my teenage and young adult life, I struggled with finding fulfillment in work myself. I worked (a lot) — but I was not sure whether what I was doing really made me happy. I was not sure whether it was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

And I sure know I am not alone in this.

Over the past two years, I’ve interviewed or produced more than 100 YouTube interviews with happy and successful people of all shapes and sizes: life coaches, entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, HR-directors, travelers, etc… and if I sum up the two key lessons they’ve taught their audience, it’s this.

In order to find what you love, you’ve got to:

  1. Try as many things as possible, and
  2. Know yourself well — through constant self-reflection, and instruments, like MBTI.

Great. Now what?

(Silence.)


Enter Jim Collins

You probably know the guy.

He is the former business professor at Stanford and the author of the unbeatable Good To Great and Built To Last.

Jim met Peter Drucker — the godfather of modern-day management theory and author of multiple books on company management — at the beginning of his career. And Peter gave Jim advice that would change the course of his life.

He said:

“Jim, listen. You can either build great businesses, or you can build great ideas. You can’t do both. So you’ve got to choose.”

A healthy dose of self-knowledge, and knowing what you are really about as a person (rather than what you think you are about or should be doing) is key. If it was important for Jim Collins, it must be important for the rest of us.

But then again, the question is: how exactly do you get to know yourself better? Do you have to take expensive “know yourself courses” from gurus, or buy books on coaching instruments such as FIRO-B, MBTI, Strength Finder, etc.?

I listened to Jim’s interview with Tim Ferriss and it inspired me to create a simple step-by-step approach to becoming knowledgeable about yourself.

It changed my life, and it may change yours.

First, I’ll tell you about Jim Collins's approach, and then I’ll show you how I adapted it to myself and what I’ve found out in the process. Let’s go.


Get a Spreadsheet

Because you’ll need one for this.

In the interview, Jim told a story of quitting his job as a professor at Stanford and starting out on his own. This was the time when he started working on Built To Last, which would become an international business bestseller for decades.

In order to discipline himself as a freelancer, he created a system to do his creative work. And like any system, it needed to be tracked.

Jim:

So I said to myself, “Can I just simply count the number of creative hours I get every day and then hold myself to an account?”

So at the end of every single day, I open a spreadsheet and that spreadsheet has three cells on a line; that’s for the day. The first thing is just a simple accounting of what happened that day. Where did my time go? What did I do? etc…

You can listen to the interview yourself (it’s worth it), but in a nutshell, Jim tracked the following parameters of his daily life in an Excel spreadsheet:

  • What he did (listing out in chronological order, what happened to him during the day, noting the highlights, important conversations, etc.)
  • How many hours of creative work he’d had (Jim strived to had a minimum a 1,000 creative hours per any 12-month period)
  • Day quality — from -2 to +2, where -2 is ‘awful’ and +2 is ‘great’ (This can be later used in sorting the days to make conclusions)

What started out as a tool for self-discipline (in order to hit the 1,000 creative hours needed) turned into an instrument to figuring out what makes Jim happy.

And to someone who likes to track everything in his life and be a scientist of one’s own life, this seemed very interesting.

I decided to take this system, adapt it to myself, and see what new insights it can bring about my own life.


Life Quality Tracker (LQT)

That’s what I called it.

The system is so simple, you don’t become anxious about the need to write it each evening. That’s exactly what you need when coming up with a new habit.

My tracker had the following columns in it:

  1. Date
  2. Day Quality — just like Jim, mine had a range of numbers from -2 to +2. This is strictly emotionally speaking, so just write how you felt about the day.
  3. Bedtime
  4. Wake-up time
  5. Sleep hours — calculated by subtracting “bedtime” from wake-up time. Sleep is an important factor for my productivity and attitude.
  6. Deep work — the number of hours doing creative work. My hypothesis was that “more = better”.
  7. Exercise — Yes or No, without excessive detail.
  8. What I Did — a list of activities during the day, including important highlights, happy moments, meaningful conversations and events.

Here is a screenshot from my Excel:

All screenshots by the author.

I started doing it on March 13, 2019, and stopped on April 22, 2019, a little over a month in. That was enough to stop, reflect. and make conclusions about the experiment.

One important note: it’s better if you set a reminder to track the progress every evening of the same day you’re tracking. In my experience, I found out that leaving it for the next morning can hinder the results. You probably won’t remember the details, and won’t be in the emotional state of the day you’re describing.


What I Learned About Myself Over 45 Days

The best thing about LQT is that it allows you to learn something about you.

Not about famous and successful people (Jim Collins included) — trying to copy their routines, but rather — you.

And even if you don’t make any conclusions or don’t do it in a pursuit to find what makes you happy — you have an ongoing set of data about yourself. You become a scientist of your own life.

Try remembering what you did last week on Thursday. Chances are, you won’t be able to. I can’t even remember what I ate for lunch two days ago. But with this spreadsheet, you’ve always got information about yourself. It’s with you — forever.

Personally, I learned three things about myself during this period:

  1. I need daily “deep work”. But not in the sense of “the more — the better”. I found out that I can’t do more than 2–3 hours of deep work per day. In fact, Cal Newport (the author of Deep Work) suggests that people have a limit of deep focus to 4 hours per day. Also, I found out that my type of “deep work” is quiet writing (as opposed to hustling and selling to clients — something I was doing before this tracker experiment for my business), and I do my best if I do it right after breakfast.
  2. Sleep matters. I was right about my hypothesis that sleep plays a big role in my day quality. There are people who can sleep 4–5 hours or pull all-nighters frequently and feel fine. There are also people who can wake up at 5 AM and do 3 hours of “deep work” before breakfast. That’s not me. Through experiments, I found out that my optimal “bedtime” is 9–10 p.m. and “wake up time” is 6–7 a.m., leaving me with 8–9 hours of sleep per night. Anything less than that makes me irritable and reactive.
  3. On my best days, I wrote for 2–3 hours, went for long walks in nature and had one meaningful conversation. The biggest lesson I’ve learned about myself over these 45 days was that I am not a “hustler”, as I thought of myself all this time. I found out that my stress level goes up when I do mindless routine work, whereas my anxiety goes down dramatically every time I sit and focus for an extended time at something meaningful to me. The best days were also those during which I shot interviews with famous people to talk about happiness and success — I enjoyed learning from these people and having a meaningful conversation with them afterward.

Having this data (and, as with any data — the more of it, the better), you can then make all sorts of conclusions about yourself by sorting the ‘Day Quality’ parameter and tinkering with sleep hours. You can also make experiments by trying to go to bed earlier the day before and seeing how it affects your day quality.


Insight #1: Sleep Is More Important Than Exercise

When I sorted out the days that had the “+2 (awesome)”, the first pattern I noticed was the number of sleep hours. It seems to most people that there are only two things you can be:

  1. A “morning person”
  2. A “night person”

There are also bland statements such as “everyone needs 7 hours of sleep”. But I found out that it’s not the case for me specifically.

On my best days, I had on average 8–9 hours of sleep. I guess my body just needs it. And on my worst days, I had either too little sleep (4–5 hours) or too much sleep (10+ hours).

Exercise, on the other hand, played absolutely no part in my day quality. I like to exercise to feel better, but if you put it against sleep — the latter always wins.


Insight #2: Writing Is Essential

I learned that I needed to write to feel good.

On the days when I did absolutely no “deep work” (i.e., sitting in a quiet space to myself and working towards a big project) — in my case, writing a Russian self-help book — I felt awful.

Deep work is absolutely essential to me, be it writing or thinking about my life — and it has to be done in the morning, right after breakfast. There are people who can do deep work immediately out of bed, but my mind is distracted if I am hungry.

If I did little deep work, it could be compensated with a meaningful conversation. There are days that scored +1 or +2 — during which I did 30 minutes of deep work, but they still scored high, because I had a very interesting chat with my mentor.

But again, this relates to me. You’ll have your own version of what’s essential to your life once you follow your version of LQT for a month or so.


Insight #3: The Best Days Are the Simplest Ones

I used to think that the more I put in my day, the more productive I’ll feel, the better my day would be. I was surprised to find that I was wrong.

The best days were always the simplest ones — they involve getting enough rest, having a protein-rich breakfast, working on my writing for 2–3 hours, going on a long walk in nature, and spending the evening with my girlfriend or family watching a movie.


Photo by Bruce Mars on Unsplash

I Quit My Business and Became a Writer

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to finding your passion. And the biggest problem is that we don’t actually know ourselves well.

There are many coaching instruments on the market out there — most of them are extremely expensive. LQT, on the other hand, is completely free. All you need is a computer, Excel, and a desire to know yourself better.

One of the biggest mind shifts that happened to me thanks to LQT is figuring out what I actually wanted to do for a living. I did this not through brainstorming my “ideal life” like I used to. Nor did I copy somebody else’s example.

Instead, I used LQT to answer a simple (yet, so important) question: how do I want my ideal day to look like? I tell my coaching clients that in order to figure out the ‘What’, you first need to figure out the ‘How’. This is an example of exactly what I mean.

Instead of asking yourself, What do I want to do with my life?, ask yourself: HOW do I want to spend my days?. This makes you think about yourself on a different level.

Like most people, you won’t have an answer right away (unless you are very self-aware). LQT method helps you build awareness of how you want to live your life. By seeing what happens in your life (‘What you did’) and how it affects your emotional state (‘Day quality’), you can become a scientist of your own life — and make yourself happy.

As for me, I exited my business, moved to another country, and started to write daily in 2 languages. I realized that in order to be happy, I needed to live the lifestyle I wanted. Hence, I adapted my career so that it fits this definition.

And I have never been happier.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Sergey Faldin

Written by

Twenty-something. Bilingual author and blogger from Russia. I write about figuring yourself out, living slow and how the new media will change the world.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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