Start the year with a calendar fast: delete everything on your calendar.
When I started my research into fasting and metabolism 8 years ago, fasting was considered a niche religious, spiritual or biohacker longevity practice, at best, and an eating disorder, at worst.
But the science and data was growing. Fasting became not just a personal practice for me, but something I advocated in the public discourse [1,2,3,4,5,6]. In our modernity of excess and complacency, more fasting will result in more fitness, less chronic disease, and ultimately a healthier and happier civilization.
The basic science of fasting is simple. Not eating is a signal for our cells to undergo autophagy, which is a scientific term best explained by its Greek etymological roots: “self-devouring”. Damaged or aging cells and cellular organelles are broken down, and the raw components are recycled into fresh bits for new cells. Instead of eating external food, fasting can be thought of as re-digesting and re-constituting all the extraneous, damaged cruft already stuck in your body.
Applying fasting to our calendar is an even more compelling use of the concept. Our time is obligated across family, businesses, bosses, friends, projects, hobbies, volunteering, sports teams, TV shows, social media scrolling, and all sorts of cruft. This cruft hardens itself into a routine, and this routine results in your life. What was a blank slate of infinite opportunity when were infants desiccates into a hodgepodge of passive obligations of which we hardly remember their origins.
Therefore, we must regularly delete every commitment and start from zero.
Five practical tips:
1.) Delete everything off your calendar. Everything. Start with a blank slate.
2.) Say no to requests for your time. Just like we just say no to junk food, we must say no to meetings that are outside our current focus areas. You don’t owe anyone your time.
Be polite and respectful, but it’s OK to say: “I appreciate the note/idea/concept/X, but I don’t think this is in my current focus area. Let’s check back in a quarter or two. Best wishes.”
3.) Constitute regular blocks of time. First, group by project (for me: this is Archive, H.V.M.N., venture capital, and writing), and then secondly, sub-group by specific type of work (for me: internal meetings, 1:1’s, external sales, and external partnerships).
For example, I schedule all my internal colleague meetings or 1:1’s on Monday, back-to-back. I like to keep Tuesdays open for long blocks of thinking, writing, or reading, right off the back of Monday team meetings. Regular partner meetings are usually scheduled for Wednesdays. New requests for time (e.g. partnerships, sales or venture capital pitches) tend to land on Wednesday and Thursdays. In-person meetings tend to land on Fridays. With recurring, pre-determined time blocks, I am proactive within a certain brain-state, and minimize churn and context-switching of reacting towards ad hoc inbound.
4.) Lock in time to think and learn. Our brains are input-output state machines. Feed it junk, and out comes junk. Think about what you want to think about. You sure the pop-gossip podcast or social media propaganda is where you want to meditate? The biggest money business in the world is to harness your attention.
Thus, we must resume sovereignty over our own attention. To do so, we must protect our time to actually think, and think from first principles. Read philosophy, mathematics, physics or whatever framework to develop your axiomatic principles. If you have no intellectual foundation, you can only be a follower. This explains why our modernity is overweight memes and underweight on principles.
Also, lock in time for exercise, fun, and creativity.
5.) Fast to refine intuition and taste. When I fasted for 7 days (only water, no food) — written up by The Guardian in 2017 — I learned one thing that you can’t learn anywhere else: I viscerally know what true hunger is. I viscerally know what actual 16 hours of continuous blocks of work is. And most impactful, I know the high of eating.
The high of my first meal of chicken pho after 7 days was probably comparable to your choice of recreational drug. This was when I realized that we’re all default drowning in existential ennui. The learned behavior of us all thinking about and eating three daily meals plus some snacks — and the associated regular hit of serotonin and dopamine every 4 hours — is probably the major factor that keeps society from collapsing underneath civilizational boredom and lack of purpose.
The same ennui sated by regular eating is also sated by being busy with tasks, errands, and meetings. Delete everything and force yourself to meditate on emptiness. When your baseline is nothing, you can finally understand what brings true joy and what does not.
When you have nothing, anything is possible.