I bought an iMac even though the macrumors buyer’s guide said don’t buy. It seems pretty clear that there will be some kind of update in the coming weeks but they probably aren’t form factor updates. Also the deal was 600 below the refurbished retail price so there’s definitely nothing that can match that unless they drastically cut the price.
In a previous post, I wrote about how The Alchemist aligns (or doesn’t) with some of my beliefs:
It’s essentially about following your dreams and the law of attraction. However you feel about those things just about sums up whether you’ll like the book or not. Meaning I’m somewhere in the middle. Passion isn’t the end-all for picking a career, but I think affirmations work.
We should be cautious weighing passion so heavily in picking a career. Derek Sivers’s says separating your job and your art is a good solution for being happy. I often reference the hypothetical person who loves surfing. He quickly realizes teaching 7AM classes to Wall Street guys on vacation isn’t quite as fun. In So Good They Can’t Ignore You, Cal Newport writes about a woman trading an advertising career to start a yoga practice for pregnant women and kids. It doesn’t go well.
Let’s say you have a business that is going well, you want it to grow as fast as possible right? Maybe not. The boy in The Alchemist helps a crystal merchant get more sales. The boy has a plan (sellTeaInCrystalShop-ver3.pptx) to accelerate that further.
“[…] If we serve tea in crystal, the shop is going to expand. And then I’ll have to change my way of life.”
“Well, isn’t that good?”
“I’m already used to the way things are. Before you came, I was thinking about how much time I had wasted in the same place, while my friends had moved on, and either went bankrupt or did better than they had before. It made me very depressed. Now, I can see that it hasn’t been too bad. The shop is exactly the size I always wanted it to be.
This reminds me of the Basecamp founders, David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried. They write often about the perils of growth. (Here’s DHH’s latest: Exponential growth devours and corrupts.) (Check out some notes I wrote about DHH when he was on the Tim Ferriss show.)
More and more I see why “it depends” is always the answer. Becoming a millionaire is no use if you torch all your relationships to get there. Early retirement is no use if all your joy and motivation comes from work. Generally, I’d like this blog to be bigger, but I need to spend more time thinking about why.
A handful of strangers reading my stuff? Great! Oh, blogs can have hundreds or thousands of readers? Well, that handful seems a lot smaller now. The crystal merchant has always been happy with his sales look nice until he sees that they could be doubled or tripled:
Today, I understand something I didn’t see before: every blessing ignored becomes a curse. I don’t want anything else in life. But you are forcing me to look at wealth and at horizons I have never known. Now that I have seen them, and now that I see how immense my possibilities are, I’m going to feel worse than I did before you arrived. Because I know the things I should be able to accomplish, and I don’t want to do so.”
The first stand-up special I remember is Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain. I was at an age where I understood some jokes but missed the subtext. One joke I did understand was Chris Rock saying Bill Gates would jump out of a window if he woke up with Oprah’s money. Everything is relative.
In the past year I’ve tried practicing gratitude daily. Someone asked if being content is the same as being happy. (Or if being content is required to be happy.) You can break your brain thinking about that. You can be happy and strive for more. Though I imagine the happiest people never think about questions like this.
Oh yeah, the crystal merchant. He decides to sell tea with the boy, sales explode, and the merchant hires two more employees, and they begin importing a whole lot of tea. “You brought new feeling into my crystal shop.” he tells the boy.
Which sort of ckntraxics my points about growth being bad. Time for him to take that hockey stick chart to some VCs.
The Alchemist has a lot of other useful parables. In some ways it seems like there were some generic morals to share and the story is written around them to fit them in. That’s to say: a lot of crazy stuff happens in the book. Just like one thing after another and if nothing is happening then it’ll just skip month or even a year.
Follow your dream and you’ll find your treasure. Sometimes I believe that completely. Sometimes I wish I believed it more. Reading The Alchemist made me believe just a smidge more. That’s enough to make is worth reading.
Another week in the books. I tried drawing Jerrod Carmichael a bunch. I wanted a drawing to go along with my podcast notes post for Carmichael’s appearance on the Tim Ferriss Show. It felt like I regressed. I couldn’t draw his face at all. A lot of attempts ended looking more like 2Pac.
It was just rep after rep of drawing and I didn’t seem to be getting closer. I bought Alphonso Dunn’s Pen and Ink Drawing: A Simple Guide. I don’t expect it to be a magic bullet or anything. It’s not instantly going to drop me into deliberate practice, but I’m hoping it will help me move toward useful practice.
If you’re at all interested in learning to draw, check out Alphonso Dunn’s YouTube channel. Throw a random video on and draw along with it.
Along with Pen and Ink Drawing, here’s what else I’ve been reading and listening to.
- Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson — I’m picking this up again after nearly a year away from it. I’m always amazed when reading sci-fi books and then looking at the publish date. This is from 1992 but so many aspects could be from today. The main character pulls his VR goggles on in the passenger seat. This is for sure going to happen with middle schoolers and their parents.
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho — I hadn’t read it before. I didn’t even really know what it was about. I always thought it was one of those 600 page tomes but it’s a pretty quick novel. It’s essentially about following your dreams and the law of attraction. However you feel about those things just about sums up whether you’ll like the book or not. Meaning I’m somewhere in the middle. Passion isn’t the end-all for picking a career, but I think affirmations work. (Very long shrug.)
- Stealing Fire by Steven Kotler and Jamie Wheal (audiobook)— In The Rise of Superman (check out my notes), Kotler wrote about action sports athletes and how they’ve unlocked the shortcut to flow. Stealing Fire continues on and explains how people are unlocking that state without jumping off cliffs or into gigantic waves.
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (audiobook) — If you haven’t started listening to audiobooks, I always recommend picking one that’s written and narrated by a comedian you enjoy. This was great. I haven’t traveled much internationally. Noah takes you on his journey growing up in South Africa. I’m about the same age as him and there was more to relate to than I expected. Street Fighter II and was one of the first kids he knew with a CD burner.
- Wired to Create by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire (audiobook) — It’s right smack in the middle of the bubble I’m trying to avoid this year. I’m really enjoying this—which is how I ended up in this bubble in the first place. They write about the science behind creativity and how can nurture our creativity day to day.
More notes for those are on the way. Here are things I’ve learned from some other books I’ve been reading and listening to lately—and some drawings to go with them.
A farmer and his tools
I’m re-reading Deep Work. Cal Newport writes about the importance of focused blocks of time. Ideally the no-internet, away from people, in a shack in the woods type of focus. Since that isn’t possible for most people, he explains how knowledge workers can move toward that kind of focus.
Instead of a shack in the woods, you can at least have a closed door. Instead of being away from people, you can try to work away from your desk. (Headphones don’t exactly do the trick.) Instead of having no internet (though you can probably achieve this), don’t use the internet for entertainment.
One major way we use the internet for entertainment is social media. There’s some value to social media as a tool. Long story short, I have my current job because of a tweet I happened to see one day through someone else retweeting it. I might have a similar job but this specific one was a result of social media.
Newport explains the tool use by sharing some thoughts from Forrest Pritchard, a farmer in Virginia. Pritchard explains why he doesn’t make his own hay.
“Let’s start by exploring the costs of making hay,” Pritchard said. “First, there’s the actual cost of fuel, and repairs, and the shed to keep the baler. You also have to pay taxes on it.” These directly measurable costs, however, were the easy part of his decision. It was instead the “opportunity costs” that required more attention. As he elaborated: “If I make hay all summer, I can’t be doing something else. For example, I now use that time instead to raise boilers [chickens meant for eating]. These generate positive cash flow, because I can sell them. But they also produce manure which I can then use to enhance my soil.”
Newport abstracts these principles and calls it The Craftsman Approach to Tool Selection. Tools should be used if positives far outweigh negatives.
Social media has had positive impact for me. I’ve also spent hours and hours scrolling through endless streams looking at interesting things. It’s entertainment. It’s leisure, which is good. Infinite leisure probably isn’t good.
I try minimizing my time using social media because it’s a great tool for minimizing your time.
Regressing to the mean
In The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis writes about psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman (author of Thinking, Fast and Slow), who collaborated through a couple decades. If you haven’t directly read any of their work, you’ve likely read something based on their work. Or rooted for a team who picks players using principles based on their work.
Earlier in his career, Kahneman worked with the Israeli air force, helping in training pilots. Some instructors thought criticism led to better performance.
“The pilot who was praised always performed worse the next time out, and the pilot who was criticized always performed better. Danny watched for a bit and then explained to them what was actually going on: The pilot who was praised because he had flown exceptionally well, like the pilot who was chastised after he had flown exceptionally badly, simply were regressing to the mean. They’d have tended to perform better (or worse) even if the teacher had said nothing at all.”
This seems straightforward when it’s pointed out. From reading The Undoing Project and recently listening to Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath, it’s becoming clear that we make these mistakes constantly. We want to see patterns, so we’ll make them up and they take hold. Whether the pattern is real or not.
The Warriors weren’t going to follow up a 9-loss regular season with a better record. It didn’t matter if they were entirely praised or entirely criticized through the entire summer. It didn’t matter if Kevin Durant would mix in well or not. All that matters is that it’s unlikely that you’ll follow up the best performance in history with an even better performance.
Let walking be the destination
In Declutter Your Mind, S.J. Scott and Barrie Davenport write about decluttering different aspects of your life: thoughts, obligations, relationships, and environment. Part of decluttering your environment involves being mindful in your activities. Including walking:
Wherever you are walking (either indoors or out), whatever your destination, pay attention along the way. You don’t have to hustle along with your eye on the outcome. Let walking be the destination.
This could double as a metaphor for life and enjoying the journey and so on. But I’m sharing it at face value because I’ve been interested in walking lately.
I bought a couple more batteries for my Fuji X100. I’ve also been shooting with the Nexus 5X so I might just keep doing that. My commute is a walking commute now. I’m trying to do what I can to take walks more frequently. Somehow capturing my walks and thoughts while walking might become a big part of this blog.
Now I just need to find some woods nearby.
I took a walk today around for probably a couple hours. A lot of it was getting more uniform. And then I went to Madison Square Park.
They talk about walking meditation
I refreshed my Instacast feed and was delighted to see that Jerrod Carmichael was a guest on The Tim Ferriss Show. When reading Judd Apatow’s Sick in the Head, I was hoping Carmichael would be in it. I also should have checked the table of contents instead of thinking he might just appear a few hundred pages in.
Ferriss is a fan of comedy. He’s had a few comedians as guests and has mentioned that he enjoys seeing earlier sets to see how comedians work on an unfinished product. After reading Tools of Titans and Sick in the Head one after the other, I wrote a couple posts connecting the two. Jerry Seinfeld does something similar to star-gazing and Michael Che and Jocko Willink keep positive perspectives even if their situations are much different.
Successful comedians have a great toolbox. Comedy writers have great efficiency with words—they craft sentences in the right way to get people to laugh. Stand-up comics place little bets in every performance and become some of the best public speakers.
Still, even the greats bomb. Carmichael says he bombed the very first time he was on stage. How’d he deal with it? He says he lied to himself and said it wouldn’t happen again. Don’t dwell. He shares a lot of other wisdom in the podcast.
Don’t be a bad comedian with an excellent website
Or: don’t be Kwame Brown trying to palm two basketballs. (Michael Jordan was unimpressed.) Rookies probably don’t need to worry about poster poses. Startup founders probably shouldn’t be telling the designer “Two pixels to the left” if they can instead be talking to customers. I should probably be drawing instead of configuring digital brushes.
Carmichael says to focus on the content and to focus on exactly what you’re putting out.
People focus on the wrong things. There are a lot of comedians who aren’t funny at all or who don’t have stage presence. But have excellent websites. You know, they have excellent websites. And the shiniest business cards and the headshots are impeccable. And… who gives a fuck? You know what I mean?
It’s about the work. He says that he’s always had that mindset, even when selling shoes at Footaction. He approached it thinking okay this is my job, let me see what it’s like to try and be the best at this.
Don’t waste time on decisions that don’t matter
Fewer decisions means you can focus more energy on the important decisions. Personal trainers take the decision-making out of workouts (and also why you should be picky). Morning rituals help remove decisions also (Carmichael has eggs and blueberries). He also used to wear a uniform.
I was wearing the same… I bought a lot of the same… white sweatshirt, gray pants… Timberlands. Everyday. Every day. It worked in any place that I went. That’s what I liked. It worked everywhere. I’ll go to your wedding in this thing.
Wearing the same thing is another step toward reducing your decisions. Lately it’s been popularized by Barack Obama and Steve Jobs. In the past it was popularized by those kids in school who didn’t care what they wore. He says he doesn’t currently wear a uniform—his show requires wardrobe selections so he thinks about clothes and clothes can be fun.
I’m slowly getting into a uniform myself. A couple weeks ago I got a Uniqlo oversized shirt and a pair of their khaki joggers. A couple days later I got another set. I’m thinking of picking up two more sets to get a good rotation going. Soon I’ll just have Doug’s closet.
Don’t start your day with bullshit
Ferriss mentions that Carmichael in person isn’t as dark as he is in his stand-up. Here’s some proof: he starts most of his days in the least dark way imaginable: he calls his mom.
“I don’t want to start my day with bullshit. I don’t like noise. You know? I don’t like too much noise. My mom has a great spirit. One of the purest people that I know. She doesn’t over complicate anything.
I’ll talk to her for a few minutes and then I’ll do other calls. But you want to start it in a peaceful place, and then yell about marketing for an hour.
Maybe you don’t have someone to start every day like that. (He also calls his sister if his mom isn’t available.) The point is centering yourself in some way.
Don’t listen to anybody
Ferriss asks him about bad advice that’s given out frequently. Carmichael says to watch out when advice begins with “You gotta…”
It’s usually people who aren’t where they want to be. The person who just readily hands out advice is usually not where they want to be. You know, busy people aren’t just around in the back telling you what you gotta do next.
You gotta listen to this podcast!
I took a very long walk two days ago. When I walked out the door I was aiming to be out for 4 hours and it stretched over 6. In my first post this year, I said I’d take more photo walks. Daily seemed unreasonable, but I didn’t think it’d take a full month before doing it. I also know 6-hour walks are unreasonable. It’s a long weekend so I went on another walk.
Today’s walk was shorter. I was aiming for an hour and it was good to see that an hour is plenty of time. (It stretched to a couple hours.) Now I’m thinking of different routes I can take that would be between 1-2 hours.
I started at the less popular end of the High Line around 30th street. It starts narrow then opens up closer to 14th St.
The High Line is where I decided I would move to New York. Four years ago, I had this idea that I’d try and move to New York. I had never been so I tried and finally got an interview so I had a reason to visit.
I met up with a friend that had just moved to New York with his wife and he said we’d get some pizza then go out. He took me to Artichoke Pizza, we got a few of their giant slices, and went up to The High Line to eat them. We sat at one of the tables and someone was playing the cello. I knew this combination of things wasn’t really something every city has to offer. My friend asked about the interview.
The interview went well until after lunch when we sat down and the founder said, “Now let’s talk some code.” (Later that day he said “Good shit today” in an email. I’m guessing that’s not one of the canned responses but still… I kind of knew my fate.)
I told my friend you know what, it might take a little longer but I’m gonna figure out a way to get out here. I still think of that when I walk on The High Line. There are a few other High Line memories that I’ve added since then.
I was really worried when people started touching this guy in his underwear.
From a distance, I was completely sure that he was an actual person. One of those people who stay frozen and are usually painted in silver or gold. I thought this was the next generation. Someone that made themselves look like plastic. Nope. Just a statue.
Then I made it to the other end of The High Line.
This weekend was unusually warm for February. It reminded me of spring and how gorgeous New York is.
I did my first photo walk, took a month off, did another photo walk, took one day off, then did this walk. When will the next one be? A month or a day? Let’s go with my favorite combo answer: it depends… somewhere in between.
I started working on a simplified layout for posts after writing my pseudo-live walking blog. (The first of what I hope will be many.)
I’ve been drawing again and haven’t ever quite figured out a good way to share sketches. Most people will be looking at this on a phone so I need to remember that and work toward a good format. I don’t think I’ll start sketching in 600px boxes, but I just might be sharing it that way.
This week I read an ESPN feature with Hollywood screenwriters writing a story for the Warriors season. I saw it on my phone and liked how it looked. I figured it’d have some sort of responsive design treatment so I hopped on the computer to take a look.
I was surprised at how straightforward it was. The header image went wide but everything else just had a max width of 600px. (Which, if you opened this post up in developer tools, you’ll see I’m trying nearly the same setup for this first iteration.)
Sort of a breath of fresh air and it just reminded me of the pleasant time in web development when it wasn’t tooling hell. (I’ll also acknowledge that the same tooling is what helped me put a first version of this layout together in an hour.)
This always feels a little uglier than I’d like. I’m a designer by day but you probably wouldn’t have guessed looking at the state of my site. I wanted to focus on the writing and drawing. I still do, but I know I can put 20% effort into the design and development of the layouts and it can go a pretty long way.
What’s with the farmers?
I’ve been reviewing my notes from Deep Work. It’s one of my favorite books from the last few years. I wrote a bunch of notes to do some kind of epic post I had in mind and I of course never got around to it.
I want to write some book notes posts for it though. One thing that’s stuck with me is the story he tells about a farmer and his tools. The point it is getting across is that useful tools might not be worth it. Particularly because the resources for that tool could potentially be used to get a better tool.
The resource is time and the tool he’s arguing against is social media. I’ve found a lot of value through Twitter. My current career wouldn’t be the same without Twitter.
Now is a different season though. It doesn’t provide as much value. Especially weighed against the amount of time I lose using it. There’s a lot of interesting stuff that I find through Twitter. I can and have spent entire days just reading cool things on Twitter.
Kotler and Flow, again
I re-listened to part of the Joe Rogan Experience episode with Steven Kotler through this clip about creativity and flow states. Kotler says he wakes up and wants to be writing within minutes.
For me it’s, wake up at 3:30, 4:00 AM. And I like to be… I like to be writing before my brain is awake. I want to be writing within 4 minutes of getting out of bed.
He goes on to explain that he wants to keep his brain waves in the creative phase.
For more from Kotler, check out my book notes on The Rise of Superman.
What’s with the people at brunch?
I was thinking of drawings I could do for my book notes for We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider. A major theme through the book is that we worry too much about things that aren’t so important in the big picture. Namely, work and careers. They’re important but we take for granted how important spending a day with friends is.
I started trying to schedule posts in really rough states. It was supposed to act as a forcing function to finish posts. Surprisingly, it worked. Along with those We Learn Nothing notes, here are three other book notes posts I wrote in the past week:
I’m slowly converging on the proper mix of writing, drawing, consistency, and ease in the system. In writing, drawing, editing photos, editing drawings, and adding them all to a WordPress post, there are just a lot of places where friction exists. Bit by bit, I’m removing inessential things from the system and posting things I’m happy to share with others.
Weekly is a bit ambitious, but I’ll aim to do something like this once a month.
Ok I’m trying something right now. Based on Tools of Titans I’m going to take a walk. I’m aiming for 4 hours. With breaks. So I should be out the door at 9:15 and will be done at, let’s say 1:30.
Some quick thoughts before starting.
- Bringing my camera
- Trying to take a break on the hour to write one page and add one photo
- Coffee, then water throughout
- Have a few things on the way to stop at. Aka foot locker.
- Wearing Metcons instead of Vans—hoping it’s just as good for foot mobility
I was thinking there could be like one hour of photography (I brought my camera), one hour of audiobooks (I bought Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, one hour of phone calls (I’ve got a friend in mind), and one of hour silence () if possible.
I’m realizing this is basically an urban hike
This is where I search for my digital watch and sit on my bed scratching my head trying to figure out how to turn on the hourly beep.
Ok I’m actually out the door at 9:35.
I’m trying to stop on the hour. I stopped in Cascade Cafe on 8th ave. Got some water and used the restroom.
Here’s the description straight from a chapter about ketogenic diets and fasting in Tools of Titans.
On Friday (and Saturday if needed), drink some caffeine and prepare to WALK. Be out the door no later than 30 minutes after waking. I grab a cold liter of water or Smartwater out of my fridge, add a dash of pure, unsweetened lemon juice to attenuate boredom, add a few pinches of salt to prevent misery/headaches/cramping, and head out. I sip this as I walk and make phone calls.
Ferriss does this during a 3-day fast. I’m not doing this as part of a fast, but I’m doing this as part of a half-hearted ketogenic diet. Let’s just go ahead and say I’m following it to a T.
I didn’t really have a destination in mind. My current plan is to walk to Central Park and do a lap. Then maybe I can go to The Museum of Natural History to draw a little bit. Another chance to be the guy drawing on an iPad in the museum. Then Ineed to return something at Foot Locker.
I can end the walk at Gong Cha and get a coffee with milk foam. We’ll see how this goes. Oh yeah, so far Trevor Noah has jumped out of a moving van. (A van that’s moving not a van that movers use.)
Ok that’s the bottom of this iPhone page. Let’s keep it popping.
Needed to use the restroom again and my wandering took me to the east side of Central Park. Instead of the Museum of Natural History I went to The Met. Took me forever to find the restroom in this place. The a lot of the bathroom doors are hidden flush against the walls.
While I’m here it’s probably a good idea to try and draw something. I’ve glanced at other people’s sketches. Without fail, they’re better at drawing than I am. Young, old, doesn’t matter.
Meanwhile, people will think I’m one of those people making beautiful sketches of the statues. Before I start, I’ll leave you with something I overheard:
“We went to… armies and armor… medieval .. Oceania—remember it had the thing with the big penis? (the group nods in acknowledgement and not even a hint of a chuckle)—now we’re in the Greek stuff… next we can do Egyptian.”
I like drawing at The Met.
Ok that was like 40 minutes of drawing. How’s that for flow? How’s that for cutting into walking time? Adjusting the walking goal to walk until 2:30 since I just sat for 40 minutes.
Let’s keep it popping. Time to get out of the museum.
Oh yah the drawings. I tried drawing this guy over and over. I really should’ve set a timer to make sure I was giving myself the same amount of time for each attempt. Otherwise I can’t really build on something I already knew: the better sketches are the ones I take more time on. I also should’ve tried overlaying a photo over the sketches to see what I’m getting wrong.
During these sessions, people stopped to look at the statue and I started thinking it’d be good to try doing quick motion sketches of them. One woman covered her mouth and looked shocked.
I realized that I hadn’t read the caption myself and never stopped to think about who this guy was. I guessed right: it was his children around him. What I didn’t guess is that he’s contemplating starving or eating them.
I switched from Born a Crime to Wired to Create by Carolyn Gregoire and Scott Barry Kaufman. Within half an hour, there was a Mihály Csíkszentmihályi mention and I was reminded of the echo chamber I stay in. I really need to work on a bingo card for this: Csíkszentmihályi, 10,000 hours, growth mindset, kids eating marshmallows, etc. If I hit bingo, then I should switch to another book.
I’m somewhere in Central Park. My feet are feeling it. I wonder what the balance is. Should I stop? Keep going? I think I’ll walk to the subway then take it to Gong Cha and then return these shoes. I like this walk. I heard something recently in Declutter Your Mind by Barrie Davenport and S.J. Scott:
“The walk is the destination.”
An update on the attempt to do one hour of photography, one hour of audiobooks, one hour of calls, and one hour of silence. I’ve been taking pictures intermittently the entire time. I listened to a good portion of Born a Crime and was able to give it enough attention to follow along. I called a friend. I learned that Foot Locker won’t accept returns from other stores if they don’t sell the product. I’ve even burned probably like… 47 calories.
I’ve had days started by reading Twitter, opening a bunch of links, seeing a few hours go by just lying down reading on my phone. Then I head to a couch and check some stuff out on my laptop. A video here, a video there. An hour here, three hours there. It’s the bad kind of flow. Then the day is gone. Some people call these days zero days and there are online communities for avoiding them.
This walk made time feel similar: it accelerates slowly at first then it seems to disappear. However, the time doesn’t feel wasted at all. My legs and feet are feeling it but my mind is really clear.
I can get used to this. I’m getting hungry though. Time for the last stretch then I’ll return these shoes and eat. I’ll get my coffee with the foamed cream and grass jelly. Can’t wait.
I’ll call this the end of it. Went to Gong Cha and the line was too long. Went to Kung Fu Tea instead. Still gotta drop by Foot Locker and eat a snack. Then I have dinner with a friend. It’s a good day so far. My legs hurt.
Home now. Next time I’ll aim for 3 hours and hopefully it’ll be a 4 hour outing. This time was aiming for 4 hours and somehow it’s been 6.5 hours.
Here are my steps.
I like the idea of aiming to live an unrushed life. How can I measure that? One measure is counting walks where the walk is the destination. Here’s the first one.
Later that night I ate kalbi. I went to an all you can eat place and ate all I could.
I learned about We Learn Nothing: Essays and Cartoons by Tim Kreider through Tim Ferriss’s Tools of Titans. There’s a chapter by Kreider called “Lazy: a manifesto”. An earlier version is available at The New York Times titled “The ‘Busy’ Trap”.
Ferriss produced the audiobook of We Learn Nothing, which I bought alongside the Kindle version immediately after I noticed I was highlighting large swaths of text in Kreider’s chapter.
Last year, I read Deep Work by Cal Newport and Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Both guided me toward thinking about eliminating busy work. They highlight the importance of identifying and focusing on what’s important. It’s a big ship to steer in a different direction, but I’m glad I’ve started.
“The ‘Busy’ Trap” is a great reminder of why it’s worth it to free up time in the first place. Increasing work efficiency to free up time only to fill it up with more work is a bit backwards. In We Learn Nothing, Kreider expands on the value of these regular good days. Some of that wisdom is expressed in a chapter about alcohol:
I’m more productive now, and more successful; for the first time in my life I’m supporting myself by doing what I’ve always wanted to do. But I laugh less than I used to. Drinking was, among other things, an excellent excuse to devote eight or ten consecutive hours to sitting idly around having hilarious conversations with friends, than which I’m still not convinced there is any better possible use of our time on earth.
Spending time with friends is a luxury we can likely indulge in right now. I’d wager that we don’t do it enough.
Jumping back to the other Tim, Ferriss’s 4-hour Work Week helped spread the idea that elements of a life of luxury is more attainable than you think. Delaying gratification until you’re too old to enjoy it seems backwards. When I think about my mom still not being retired, it sure makes retirement age seem far away.
It’s important to enjoy our normal days. Ferriss says he likes the feeling of being unrushed. I’m seeing that I value that also. Day to day, working toward being unrushed seems like a good way to approach things.
I notice that no one who works in a hospital, whose responsibilities are matters of life and death, ever seems hurried or frantic, in contrast to interns at magazines I’ve known who weren’t even allowed to leave for lunch lest they be urgently needed.
A lot of friends I grew up with work in hospitals now. Nurses, MAs, and a couple doctors. I can’t remember a time that they complained about work. If they did it was probably about not wanting to go back after having 6 days off.
In a previous job, I dialed into 2am conference calls to make sure holiday shopping links were working. That’s an extreme example, but urgency is always magnified by your bubble. If your day is spent at a desk, it’s never life and death. It’s rarely even a matter of being employed or not.
In living an unrushed life, one of the greatest enemies is a false sense of urgency. It’s not great to pull all nighters for weeks to reach a deadline only to learn the work won’t be relevant for a month if ever.
In the excerpt above, Kreider talked about drinking to express the values of spending time with friends. Here, he uses it as a way to consider our perspectives:
But I would suggest that an ideal human life lies somewhere between my own defiant indolence and the rest of the world’s endless frenetic hustle. My own life has admittedly been absurdly cushy. But my privileged position outside the hive may have given me a unique perspective on it. It’s like being the designated driver at a bar: When you’re not drinking, you can see drunkenness more clearly than those actually experiencing it. Unfortunately the only advice I have to offer the Busy is as unwelcome as the advice you’d give the Drunk.
It’s important, but sometimes hard, to look at your situation from an outsider’s perspective. If you’re stressing out about something, there’s value in asking, “How important is this really?”.
My senior year I had a couple partners for an assignment in some EE analog class. We hit a wall and were sitting in the lab stuck for about an hour already. We took the final already, but our final assignment was due the day after. In so many words, I thought “How important is this really?” We were walking for graduation literally the next day. I brought it up to my teammates.
“Let’s look at the syllabus.”
The assignment was 3% of our total grade and I knew we’d get at least an F+ on this. Maybe it was the sun shining through the blinds. Maybe they remembered they had jobs lined up already.
“Have a great summer!”
I listened to The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and read Spark Joy. Marie Kondo’s books are popular for a reason. Her system works. Lots of reviews comment on the anthropomorphication of your stuff. She suggests touching everything and saying thank you before tossing it. You’re in or you’re out.
If treating your things like beings isn’t your thing, you might enjoy The Joy of Less by Francine Jay. The concepts are similar. The key for organizing seems to be knowing what you have in the first place. You need to take everything completely out of their current spaces, sort through similar things, then put them back.
I bought the audiobook of The Joy of Less and put it on in the background while de-cluttering. (My girlfriend and I just moved to a new apartment.) Maybe I don’t need that 500GB external hard drive from ten years ago that’s been broken for seven of those years.
In any case, here are some tips that stuck with me.
- GTD-like sorting, everything gets a category: You label every single item with next actions (keep, toss, or donate) or put it in a someday/maybe (a box that you throw away in 6 months).
- Take pictures of sentimental things, then toss: Your friends won’t care that you threw away their save the date card. Especially when they just celebrated their 2nd anniversary.
- Your things are worth way less than you imagine: For proof, take some stuff to your favorite local we’ll-buy-your-stuff place. For me, it’s Book-Off. Whether it’s a Star Wars novel or that guitar I didn’t learn to play, they just seem to roll a 6-sided die in the back to determine how much to pay you.
Lately I’ve been reading /r/simpleliving. The minimalism sub is more about minimalist design. This seems to infuriate simpleliving members who consider themselves minimalists. They think it’s hilarious to fetishize “minimalist” furniture that costs thousands of dollars. They’d rather live in a cabin with no electronics. Or have their own farm.
I’ve seen that Narcos episode. Farms are hard work. Nobody living on a farm has time to make fun of minimalists.
I actually do like the simpleliving sub. There’s good content about being happy with what you have. Content-content, if you will. (You won’t, I know.) I just got irked by a thread with a bunch of people calling a minimalist YouTuber not a true minimalist, just someone cashing on a fad by… getting rid of a lot of her material things. Other members defended her, though, so hope isn’t lost.
Actually, just go to organization sub. If you like what you see, you’ll also probably like The Joy of Less.
Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work is by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. If you read business books, you might be familiar with their other books, Made to Stick and Switch. The format is similar. Speaking of format, I started with the Kindle version but quickly remembered I’m supposed to be listening to these books. I got the audiobook and listened to it over a few days during some very long walks.
Decisive describes decision-making techniques, explains the research behind it, and has many anecdotes showing how it can be applied. People sometimes get annoyed with books filled with stories. Stories help get the point across. If stories weren’t useful, novels wouldn’t exist and we’d only be reading Cliff Notes and $0.99 self-published eBook summaries.
One story that resonated is one of the simpler ones. (Simple story for a simple mind.) A guy is deciding between speaker systems and one is $300 more than the other. The salesman says, hey, what if you got the cheaper one and instead bought $300 of albums? Option C is something the customer never considered.
We don’t consider alternatives all the time. Particularly when comparing two options. He probably went with option D: higher quality speakers and pirated music.
I read Decisive to help in my quest to improve my focus. I want to be better about deciding what to focus on. It didn’t unlock anything major for me immediately. It’s given me some ideas though and I need to apply what I learned. When weighing future decisions, I’ll try actively viewing them from a distance or some other perspective.
Back to my decision to switch from eBook to audiobook. What would option C look like?
- Buying both: I’ve done this a few times thinking I would jump back and forth listening and reading. Or listen to it then review my notes in the Kindle version. It hardly pans out that way.
- Buying neither: For some books, if you really just want to avoid story upon story, there’s probably a TED talk. Authors also usually do the rounds on different podcasts. It could be worth searching for their appearances to get a sense of what the content will be like.
Would I rather have listened to Decisive or hours podcasts instead? I’d wager that I learned more from this. The podcasts would be more entertaining. Is learning more important than entertainment? There’s your answer.
That would’ve been a great, snooty way to say “of course learning is more important”. What I mean is: it depends. For me, learning is for morning and entertainment is for night when I need to wind down. Audiobooks for the morning commute and podcasts for the evening commute.
A few weeks ago, I finished The Undoing Project, Michael Lewis’s book about Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The duo inspired so much of today’s business and self-development books with their published work about decision making.
Decisive is part of the writing inspired by Kahneman and Tversky’s work. Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow referred to at the start of the book and one of the first suggested readings at the end of the book. It’s about time I move Thinking, Fast and Slow up my book queue. Long overdo.
Something I need to write about longer or add to my book notes post on Decisive is the 10-10-10 technique. When making a decision to do something or not, think in terms of 10-10-10.
- 10 minutes from now, how will I feel? Probably relieved that you took action on it at all.
- 10 months from now, how will I feel? In a lot of cases, it might not matter.
- 10 years from now, how will I feel? If it goes well, the benefits might outweigh the negatives if it doesn’t go well.
The example in the book is about asking a girl out on a date. It probably really depends on the situation, but it’s a good technique to have in the toolbox.
When writing directly in WordPress, my Chromebook really, really does the trick. I re-read my first impressions of the Chromebook and a lot of it still holds up. It’s great to take around. I even had a picture from using it while sitting on a bench at a park. Right now, there’s snow on the ground so those sure seem like really pleasant days.
The WordPress app for the iPad is the same as the iPhone app and designing for the iPhone clearly took priority. Using my MacBook for the WordPress console still tempts me to tinker with HTML/CSS. Or think about if I should be writing in Ulysses instead.
It’s just really pleasant writing on the Chromebook.
Looking back at old posts, I realized my favorite posts involved both writing and drawing. Lately I was only writing so last week I focused on drawing. That skewed a little too far the other way. I’m not good at writing, and I’m worse at drawing. So a post with just drawings certainly can’t stand on its own.
Combining okay writing with okay drawings is… well I don’t know if that’s exactly a winning combination either. Putting mediocre ingredients together gets you to like your local diner. Which, I mean, gets regular customers in and everyone seems friendly with each other and enjoys their time there.
Who would want that when you can be the Yelp diner with a cramped pseudo line out the door to get into the formal line to get the privilege of waiting for an hour to get in to most likely get some kind of omelette and some kind of waffles or French toast.
I started scheduling some posts. My Ulysses drafts was getting out of control. The app makes writing really pleasant so I end up writing in it a lot. My morning pages were going in there. Sometimes with morning pages, I add headings that I intend to move into their own posts eventually. Then, unsurprisingly, I never take the time to pull them out of the morning pages.
I needed to get back to my habit of finishing posts. Writing right in WordPress helps. Environments matter. Even digital environments. It’s why Seth Godin writes his daily post right in Typepad. I need to
steal repurpose the idea and call it the Write Right Principle then write a $0.99 eBook about it.
I’ll try leveraging some other features in WordPress (scheduled posts) to focus on finishing posts. Right now I’ve got three book notes posts scheduled. They’re nowhere near where I’d like them to be for posting. (One is a hodgepodge of clips from the various morning pages I mentioned earlier.)
I’m hedging though. They’ll first get published to this micro section. It’s somewhat hidden in that none of the navigation goes here.
It’s an experiment, but it seems to be working already so I have a feeling it’ll be a long-term experiment.
In 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done, Peter Bregman writes about focus, distraction, and getting things done. The title comes from his daily steps for focusing on this. Summarized:
- 5 minutes: Start your day by planning what you’ll focus on
- 8 minutes: At the start of every hour in an 8-hour work day, ask if you’re working on the right thing
- 5 minutes: Review your day by figuring out what went well and what could be improved
I haven’t tried following it completely yet, but I did turn the MacOS notifications back on to announce the time. It’s helped me stay on track.
I liked the format of the book. Each chapter is built sort of like this:
- Story as a metaphor to introduce a problem
- How the problem applies to work-related things
- Solutions to that problem at work
- Applying the principles to that solution to the introductory story
I call the end directives, as in how Derek Sivers has a “Do this.” takeaway from all his reading. 18 Minutes explicitly has a box at the end of each chapter with one or two sentences explaining exactly how to take action. For example:
The first element is your strengths. Over the coming year, play the game that is perfectly suited to your strengths.
Nice and tidy. I need to go back and just look at all the directives again.
This is yet another productivity book. It references all the hit studies—kids eating marshmallows, good samaritans, monkeys and hoses, and more.
It’d be a great book to start with if you don’t read a lot of productivity books. Otherwise, you may have already read longer versions of each chapter.
The directive above is part of a chapter talking about four things to do to have a good year:
1. Leverage your strengths. 2. Embrace your weaknesses. 3. Assert your differences. 4. Pursue your passions.
In terms of this blog, I’ll run through these four things.
- Leverage your strengths: I read a lot, I have a good hour each day to work on this, I can design, I can program.
- Embrace your weaknesses: I’m not great at drawing. I’ll need to learn to leverage this. What are the pros of this? I have a beginner’s mind, which is a great time to write about learning to draw. I can have more empathy with other people learning to draw than someone who’s been doing it for 20 years does.
- Assert your differences: I can’t be the best writer, I can’t be the best reader, I can’t be the best at drawing, so I’ll need to figure out how I’m different. This one isn’t as straightforward to me. I draw almost entirely on an iPad. That’s… not so original but it’s something to work with.
- Pursue your passions: What do I do with my free time? Productivity books have become a guilty pleasure. Which can’t make me sound lamer. It means I give my friends a lot of unsolicited advice. Which goes over about as well as you might think. It could be good for this blog, though.
Look at the activities you do alone and figure out if you can (and want to) do them in a way that includes other people. For example, join a garden club. Or a reading or meditation group. Or write something other people will read.
This might be my biggest takeaway from the book. Last year, I wrote 100 posts in 100 days (and am approaching 100 times that I’ve mentioned it in subsequent posts). When I think back to it, fun and enjoyable aren’t exactly the first words that come to mind.
Grueling and rewarding, yes. I sense that if I wrote 25 posts in 100 days with a friend doing the same and reviewed our progress, that’d be at lot more fun.
This year, I’ll share my writing more. I have a couple friends and we’re thinking about doing weekly or bi-weekly calls. I’ll look for other ways to turn solo activities into group activities.
Someday/maybe. This is a list I got from David Allen, who wrote the bestsellers Getting Things Done, and it’s where I put things to slowly die.
Nursing home for project ideas. It goes back to the principle that there’s not a finite amount of creativity. The more creativity you exercise in life, the more you’ll have. If a project isn’t enough to prioritize now, and you’re constantly thinking of new ideas, what are the chances that letting it sit in the someday/maybe list will make it more attractive a project than any of the new ideas you’ll think of?
The someday/maybe list is not a wine cellar where project ideas become more refined, it’s just a musty basement where dust layers up.
Distraction is, in fact, the same thing as focus. To distract yourself from X you need to focus on Y.
I’ve never thought of it this way. This is never more apparent than when you see a friend going through a breakup. It’s why we tell our friends (here’s that unsolicited advice again) to go to the gym, surround yourself with people, dive into your work. You need to distract yourself from your own thoughts by focusing on anything else.
We’d probably be wise to apply that thinking more often. If you’re burning out on work, don’t look at seemingly unproductive things as distractions. Look at them as ways to focus on recovery.
I roll my eyes when people suggest giving up TV entirely to be more productive. If you’re watching hours and hours every night, ok yeah maybe give that up. But it’s become one of the best places to see creativity. It’s a good way to turn your brain off.
I was watching the WWE Network for an hour a day during some of my most productive months. (To look smart in a meeting just wait for a statistic to be dropped then say well is that correlation or causation?) Correlation or causation? Watching pro wrestling let me turn my brain off to a notch most people don’t have on their dials. It was like the difference between restarting your browser and re-installing your OS for a fresh start.
To be successful, watch some wrestling!
Or don’t. But check out 18 Minutes, because Bregman’s got better ideas than I do.
This week, I finally got back to drawing. Going to get back to believing in the process. If I show up and draw, I’ll get better at drawing. Reading about deliberate practice won’t be as good as actually practicing drawing, even if that practice doesn’t 100% fit the guidelines for what makes it deliberate.
I finished reading The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. I really enjoyed it. It’s about Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, and his friendship with Amos Tversky, his collaborator for many years. It touches on relationships, academia, credit, military duty, and thinking.
I also finished reading Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein. It’s another book I really enjoyed.
I’m waiting for a haircut and I thought I’d try writing something in this micro section on the go.
I don’t know why I’m calling it a micro blog. That’s what Twitter is. This really is just a regular blog. The category should be like “casual” or something.
I’m still thinking about if I’m going to take pieces from here and revise them for a weekly post. That could be one way to go.
I’m almost done with Tokyo Vice. Really glad I read it. I was thinking that I like it because it’s written with each section as sort of a narrative. Or there are narrative elements at least. It’s based in reality though.
A running thread is how what actually happened differs from what he ended up seeing in the newspaper.
I read once that one of the best lessons you can have is to experience something that ends up being reported in a newspaper. Or to at least only be one degree removed from it. You can see how things get left out or described differently than what happened.
Then you step back and realize that happens for every article.
I’ve been thinking maybe I should just read a straight up crime novel. I wonder how big a difference it would be reading a nonfiction narrative with outrageous things happening to a fiction novel based in reality.
Oh yeah I also dipped into the next book I plan to read. I of course didn’t use the book list I said I would use. Up next was supposed to be The Alchemist.
Instead, I picked up Decisive. It’s by the same people who wrote Switch and Make it Stick. I remember when it originally came out, it just didn’t sound interesting to me. Making decisions wasn’t something I felt like I struggled with.
Now that I’ve been working on focusing, I’m finding that one of the things I struggle with is deciding what to focus on in the first place.
There are a few solutions to not knowing what to work on next. On one end is deciding quickly and having, say, a 25% chance that it’s the best thing to work on.
You can decide slowly and have a 80% chance that it’s the right thing to work on.
You can decide very very slowly to try to get to 100% but by the time you get started you could’ve done a couple 80% decisions.
I paid money for a focus course. I’m realizing that I’m already okay at blocking off time. During that time, I’m even able to pay pretty good attention to whatever I’m working on. What I need to work on, though, is picking the right thing to focus on.
I also paid money for a top performer course. With design work, one of my strengths is learning how to use design tools. It’s a hard skill. (Hard as in the opposite of soft skills, not hard as in difficult.) Hard skills can be taught in a workshop and practiced. Hard skills are the ones that you can really do deliberate practice on.
However, soft skills separate the top performers.
“Someone once said that education was knowing what to do when you don’t know.” — One of Daniel Kahneman’s students
I’ve learned that experienced designers know what to do when they don’t know. I need to focus on learning how to do this. Sometimes I don’t know the answer. I won’t find the answer no matter how well I know to work with nested symbols in Sketch.
I’ve prided myself on being able to prototype. If you have enough knowledge to know the design won’t work in the first place, there’s no need to prototype it at all. This, of course, needs to be balanced. Less you become one of those pessimists that people build prototypes for to prove wrong.
Anyway, enough about thinking about this from a design perspective.
A more general soft skill that’s important is knowing what to focus on. If I break down what I’ve blogged about before, here’s what I’ve focused on.
- Writing and posting quickly: This, of course, is another reference to writing 100 posts in 100 days. It was a useful thing to focus on. I focused on finishing. Quality took a hit, though.
- Images and text, together: When bought my iPad a few months ago, I had a goal in mind to use images and text together to explain things I was learning or describe what I’ve been up to.
- Writing drafts: I bought Ulysses and started skewing things back to writing more and drawing less. I was doing a little more revising and focusing on book notes.
- Blogging about blogging: I’m doing this literally right now. It’s tempting because it doesn’t take as much thought as writing book notes. It might also be the least valuable thing to put effort into.
The posts I enjoy looking at were made when I was being deliberate about using images and text together. I’m going to spend February narrowing down on that. Yesterday and today, I drew for a good amount of time.
There’s some value in curation. Finding a good quote in the first place has some value. I don’t need to try and fail to write some brilliant thoughts to go with it. Instead I’ll lean toward matching that good quote with a mediocre sketch and hope it’ll turn into great quotes and good illustrations.
With practice, of course.