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Blog // Productivity
January 2, 2024

Frequency – Yearly Theme 2024

Each year I choose a word as my theme for the coming year. In 2024 that word is frequency. Here’s what frequency means for me, and how I intend to use the word to guide me in 2024.

We often end a year looking back and wishing we’d done more, or maybe less, of the things we did. We wish we’d gone to the gym more, eaten more healthy food, read more books, spent more time with loved ones, or maybe taken more time off work. Or we wish we’d eaten less takeout, or spent less time on the sofa watching TV, attended fewer meetings at work, drank less, or not wasted so much time commuting or writing emails.

This often leads to the lists of resolutions and goals people make at the start of the each year. But resolutions seldom if ever work. Just because the calendar ticked over from one year to the next doesn’t make changing habits any easier. Pretty soon those good intentions yield to the force of well-established patterns of life.

Rather than setting fragile resolutions that get abandoned, listing goals we might never reach or new habits that require brute force willpower, what we need is something simple we can call upon in each moment, to remind us of the kind of decisions we want to make.

That’s what a yearly theme does, and my theme for 2024 is frequency.

The Danger Of Stealth Goals

I spent less time on pilates in 2023 than in previous years. I spent more time on the sofa watching TV. I’m not happy about either trend. They are prime candidates for the type of magical thinking that goes into New Year’s resolutions. The kind of fragile wishfulness I want to avoid.

I’ve been doing yearly themes since 2018. It’s one of the most profound productivity practices I’ve tried. Each theme has taught me a lot about myself and how the world around me works. The theme is a heuristic. It’s never wholly right or wrong. It’s a tool, not a goal.

Lately I’ve noticed more people using yearly themes as a kind of stealth way to talk about goals. Often the tell is in the use of the word “of”. Year of sleep is just another way of saying your goal is more nights of good sleep. Year of the weekend is just a way of saying your goal is to work a little less and relax a little more. Those themes are stealth goals.

A good theme is generative. It opens you up to different ideas as the year unfolds. It’s bigger than a goal and more like a frame of mind. Yearly themes aren’t productivity hacks. They are ways of understanding more deeply your own philosophy of life.

Rather than approaching the theme of frequency as a set of long lists (more of this, less of that), I’m thinking about the why questions. Why do I find it easier to do some things more often, while some things require more effort to be done regularly? How much is enough? How do changes in the frequency of one activity affect the frequency of other activities?

Why Frequency Matters

What I’m also doing is taking something that I understand quite well on a technical level, the science of frequency in sound and light, and seeing how that knowledge can illuminate other areas of life.

Take a guitar string, for example. Each string is tuned to a different frequency. Changing and combining those frequencies creates melody and harmony, which are building blocks of music. The frequency of each string is determined by its length, mass, and tension. Increase the mass and the string vibrates more slowly, creating a lower pitched note frequency. Increase the tension and it oscillates faster, yielding a higher-pitched note. Make the strong longer or shorter and you also change the frequency. Change any of the three variables and you change the frequency.

We often talk about ideas resonating with us. Resonance happens when the frequencies of two sounds match. It’s another way of talking about harmony; the pleasing ways in which things like ideas in a conversation, or ingredients in a dish, can combine.

We dance to the rhythm of music. The frequency with which the music comes at us, the beats per minute, is how fast or slow the music feels. The groove, the difference between the shuffle of a blues tune, or the driving beat of hard rock song, is the way that frequency is distributed, clumped together or evenly spread out.

Under every aspect of our lives is some division of time and experience. There’s a frequency conducting everything we do. Whether more, or less, the frequency determines the experiences we have. Christmas, Diwali, Mid-Autumn festival feel special because we celebrate them only once a year. We look forward to weekends because the demands of work require us to take regular breaks, and we want to regularly use the time we might be spending at work in other ways.

Finding the right frequency for each activity is integral to the crafting of a harmonious life.

Creativity and Living Well

Right now I’m in the Japanese countryside. There’s a bell-like tune that plays through the emergency speaker system here every day, at 10am, noon, 3pm and 6pm. It’s not hard to sense how the rhythm of life, the opening and closing of shops, the start and end of school, attunes to that rhythm. It reminds me of the church bells that chime in Catholic countries, calling parishioners to prayers like matins or vespers. Thinking more about the liturgical calendar, there are daily prayers, weekly prayers, seasons like Lent or Advent, and holy days like Easter or Christmas.

It’s popular to think of creativity as some sort of genius, something a few people always have available. Or as some kind of mystical lightning bolt that hits us out of the blue. I find both of these ideas kind of stressful and unhelpful.

The idea that creativity happens a bit like the liturgical calendar, mostly through daily habits and rituals, with occasional bigger moments and a few crescendos over the course of the year, feels more liveable and inviting to me. It’s somehow less heroic and more like the way the patterns of life in nature reveal themselves.

By recognising the ebb and flow of our imaginative energies, we can optimise our efforts, ensuring that our most inspired moments are not fleeting but woven into the very fabric of our endeavours.

Productivity and Technology

How often do you check your email inbox? Or your calendar? Or your messages? We often think about these kinds of activities as being on a continuum between too much and not enough. Of course there’s potentially a right amount. But there’s also a right way.

When musicians play a note on their instruments, they try to get the pitch right and play the note for the right duration. That’s the frequency of the note and the frequency of notes. But they also articulate the note. Softer or louder. Sometimes musicians want a note to feel gentle. Sometimes heavy. Wagner’s music sounds different to that of Brahms, even though it’s the same possible notes played on the same instruments.

In 2024 I want to use the idea of frequency to think about how often I do things, but also how I approach doing them; how I express and articulate my tasks.

There are a lot of different spectrums here that reflect different aspects of the energy we bring to our activity: anxious versus calm, intense versus relaxed, focused versus expansive, narrow versus generative, robust versus gentle. They all have their place in the repertoire of work, but they all lead to different ways of working.

The idea of nested time, hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly cycles of repeating rhythms, is part of the orchestration of work, the harmony of synchronised actions that helps us transcend the chaos of life.

Health and Simplicity

Your heart beats at a given frequency, faster when you exercise, slower when you rest. One of the most important measures of health is heart rate variability, which measures the variation in that frequency. This measure can highlight your cardiovascular health, and even if your fight-or-flight mode is working properly.

The idea of frequency pops up in every aspect of healthy living. From establishing and maintaining positive habits to the importance of consistency in every core health practice: getting enough sleep and exercise, eating nutritiously, staying hydrated, breathing and meditating, managing our sun exposure and taking care of our skin, and feeding our mind and soul well with the culture we consume and people with whom we surround ourselves.

Simple living also has an inherent rhythm built upon consistency and repetition. We unravel the complexities of life through our daily routines.

The simplest life is one in which every day is much the same, focused on a few well-chosen tasks and commitments that add the most meaning and joy to your existence. Through embracing the regularity of the most important habits and rituals, we discover a source of stability amidst the tumultuous currents of life.


Let’s return to that guitar string. We saw how three variables, the length of the string, its mass, and the tension it is under, determine the frequency or pitch of the string. But most guitarists don’t think about it that way. They tune the string by turning a tuning knob: turn it one way to move the pitch up, another to move it down. They think only in terms of one variable, the tension, determined by that tuning knob.

But then change strings, maybe trying another brand, or a differently gauged set, and everything goes haywire. You can’t make the guitar play in tune by simply adjusting the tuning knob. More work will be required, as will screwdrivers and other tools. Sometimes, changes in the weather or season of the year will drive a guitar out of tune. Humidity can affect the wood of the guitar, making all sorts of changes to how in tune it plays.

Finding the right frequencies requires adjustments big and small. Your adjustments can be perfect but over time they must still be tweaked and reset.

Looking Back On Previous Themes

My yearly theme for 2023 was Savour. I was hoping to slow down and enjoy life a little more. This theme helped me make all sorts of decisions that adding meaning and delight to life. It showed why a theme, which is adaptable to life’s uncertainties, is so much more powerful and useful than a set of resolutions or goals which you might be forced to drop once circumstances change.

You can learn more about choosing your own yearly theme or read below for the themes I’ve used since 2108.

2023 – Savour
2022 – Tensegrity
2021 – Imagination
2020 – Momentum
2019 – Conviction
2018 – Simple

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