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International Generalist #1: Past-Year Review, Caffeine, 30 Life Hacks

Dominik Nitsch
6 min read
International Generalist #1: Past-Year Review, Caffeine, 30 Life Hacks

Hey you!

First of all - you’re awesome, joining me from day 1. Today, we’ll talk about the concept of the “Past-Year-Review” and what I’ve learned from it, caffeine, and a few other life hacks. Let’s dive in.

#1: Past-Year Review

New year, new me.

I’m gonna start working out.

I’m gonna stop drinking.

I’m gonna start my own side business.

I’m gonna …

And as soon as February comes around, everything is back to same old and I can finally go to the gym again without having to deal with hordes of people.

New year’s resolutions don’t work. So when I read about the concept of the “Past-Year Review” on Tim Ferriss’ blog, I had to give it a try.

It works as follows (I’m quoting from Tim’s post here):

  1. Grab a notepad and create two columns: POSITIVE and NEGATIVE.
  2. Go through your calendar from the last year, looking at every week.
  3. For each week, jot down on the pad any people or activities or commitments that triggered peak positive or negative emotions for that month. Put them in their respective columns.
  4. Once you’ve gone through the past year, look at your notepad list and ask, “What 20% of each column produced the most reliable or powerful peaks?”
  5. Based on the answers, take your “positive” leaders and schedule more of them in the new year. Get them on the calendar now! Book things with friends and prepay for activities/events/commitments that you know work. It’s not real until it’s in the calendar. That’s step one. Step two is to take your “negative” leaders, put “NOT-TO-DO LIST” at the top, and put them somewhere you can see them each morning for the first few weeks of 2022. These are the people and things you *know* make you miserable, so don’t put them on your calendar out of obligation, guilt, FOMO, or other nonsense.

I did this exercise for the year 2022, and these were my main takeaways:

  • A healthy body and mind really is THE most important thing. I was - and still am - dealing with very persistent injuries for most of 2022, and it drives me nuts. Absolute energy drain and quite time-intensive.
  • In fact, this is pissing me off so much, that I have declared 2023 as “The Year of Health” for myself. The #1 goal is to stay injury- and illness-free.
  • Spending time with friends gives me a lot of energy. I will focus on planning activities with them in advance, instead of checking with someone last minute whether they wanna grab a beer.
  • One of my favorite activities at work was writing my weekly internal newsletter. Writing is the best activity to get me into a flow state. Where I want to spend more time. That’s part of the reason why you’re reading this newsletter now.
  • Videoconferences are an absolute drain on my energy. In 2023, I’ll make extra effort to take in-person meetings, even if that means I have to fly somewhere. Traveling gives me energy anyway, so might as well do this.
  • Speaking of traveling: it’s worth investing the extra €€€ into more comfort. I don’t mind flying economy or taking 2nd class on the train, but I do mind having to get up extra early or - worse - arriving super late. Better to take the flight that lands at 6pm instead of 10pm. Easy adjustment to make, and a valuable investment for me.

This exercise gave me a lot of perspective, and I’ll follow it up by writing a “Not-To-Do” list (which I’ve done for 2020 and 2021, too).

Try it for yourself, and let me know what you think.

#2: Using Caffeine properly

I’m a huge fan of the Huberman Lab Podcast by Dr. Andrew Huberman. Scientific, yet pragmatic advice for everyday life. I specifically listened to this episode about using caffeine to optimize mental and physical performance, given that I drink a fair amount of coffee.

Here are my main takeaways:

  • Caffeine has a quarter-life of 12 hours, which means that after 12h, 25% of the caffeine initially ingested is still left in your bloodstream. For optimal sleep, Dr. Huberman recommends not consuming caffeine within 12 hours of bedtime. I usually go to bed around 23:00, which means my last coffee should be at 11:00.
  • At the same time, your body needs time to “boot up”. If you drink a cup of coffee right after waking, the caffeine will do the booting up for you, and push you down a hole right after. You might wake up a bit quicker, but this comes at the cost of being really tired the rest of the day. Therefore, it’s recommended to wait 90-120 minutes after waking with the first cup of coffee.
  • However, if you have a normal sleep cycle, this essentially limits your caffeine intake window to 2.5 hours per day! I wake up at 7:15, so no coffee before 8:45 but also no coffee after 11:00. That’s a really short timeframe. I’ll play around with this and see whether there’s any impact on my sleeping patterns.
  • The recommended dosage of caffeine per serving is between 1 and 3mg per kg of bodyweight. I weigh approx. 90kg, so somewhere between 90 and 270mg is safe and doesn’t give me jitters. How much is in a cup of coffee? Check out this infographic. Means that I can basically drink every type of coffee, but if you’re a 50kg woman, that 24h cold brew might be too much for you (as might that Venti Pumpkin Spice Latte).
  • If you get the jitters from coffee, try (a) reducing the dosage or (b) adding L-Theanine, a substance extracted from green tea leaves. I’ve played around with it and it does indeed help me focus.
  • Caffeine also acts as diuretic, which means that it flushes water and electrolytes from your body. Being dehydrated isn’t good, so do it like the Italians and always have a glass of water (ideally with a pinch of salt for added electrolytes) with your espresso.
  • If you have a high-performance event coming up (marathon, final exam, etc), not consuming any caffeine for 5-20 days before the event and then consuming caffeine on the day of will give you extra energy. I don’t think I’ll try this (nor does Dr. Huberman), as we’re both exhibit a bit too much affinity for coffee.
  • The most insightful point for me was: caffeine doesn’t give you extra energy. It merely releases energy at a different point in time than your body normally would. But at some point, you will have to recoup the energy expense by sleeping.

Listen to the episode to learn more. Can strongly recommend.

Quick aside on electrolytes: every health & fitness professional I’ve spoken to in the past few years suggests drinking water with a pinch of salt, especially in the morning. I recently (re-)started adding salt to my morning lemon water and it feels fantastic.

#3: 30 life hacks that 20-year olds should know

One of my favorite social media posters out there, Ben Meer of System Sunday, published a list of “30 life hacks that I wish I knew at 20”. It’s a great summary of best practices to live a better life, but two particularly resonated with me:

#24: Avoid telling people your goals. It releases cheap dopamine and tricks your brain into thinking you’ve already achieved them ([thus] lowering motivation). Move in silence.
#9: Avoid checking your phone first thing in the morning. Happiness is abundant by design, scarce by luck.

These are two things I want to adapt. Which one are yours? You can find the list here.

That will be it for the first newsletter of International Generalist - with at least 7 more to come.

Let me know what you think by replying to this email. Help yourself, others and me to make this better.

Thanks for reading!

PS: If you’ve missed the launch announcement, you can find it here.

Welcome to International Generalist, Dominik's new newsletter!
“When you can’t stop thinking about doing something, at some point, you need to exorcise the demons - by just doing it.” We all know this feeling: the one thing that you always wanted to do, always tried to do, but never quite stuck with - and yet, you cannot kill it. It doesn’t go away.

Dominik Nitsch

Proud generalist: Entrepreneur, Athlete, & Writer.

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