Stopping numbering to try and stop blogging about blogging

I’ve stopped numbering these posts. One of the things I mentioned pretty often is that I don’t want to blog about blogging. Well the problem is that I do want to (like I’m doing right now). I just know it’s probably not the best use of time.

I’m going to try to write single posts around one topic again. One newsletter I look forward to every week is Eric Barker’s Barking up the Wrong Tree. Each week’s post is written around one topic. His latest is about 1500 words about positive self-talk.

Journal 20: What I’m skimming

Welcome to issue 3 or issue 20, depending on how you’re counting. I wrote new things this week, which I’ll probably share next week. Because I have a small backlog of writing that from previous weeks. Now I can finally practice scheduling posts.

I can also do some quick links to things right here. It’s like the honorable mentions of things you might want to take a look at.

What I’m watching — Jerrod Carmichael: 8 (HBO, trailer on YouTube)

A few weeks ago, I wrote notes for Jerrod Carmichael’s appearance on Tim Ferriss’s podcast. I didn’t realize he had a new HBO special until I was browsing HBO last night. If you liked Jerrod’s first special, you’ll like this also.

Oh and the Dave Chappelle Netflix specials are great also, but I’m guessing you’ve already seen them. Chappelle has a bit about going to a Kevin Hart show. I like Kevin Hart but a tier below Chappelle and Chris Rock. I really liked Kevin’s tweet responding to someone saying Chappelle is better.

What I’m reading

Next week I’ll share some things I’ve written about prioritizing health. I’ve been trying to shift my media consumption in that direction. I bought Michael Matthews’s Bigger, Leaner, Stronger on Kindle and Audible because they were on sale for a couple bucks. I didn’t know what to expect, but it’s great and the workouts look reasonable. Particularly amongst other material written for guys who are like 19 and function better with a hangover than I would now after 10 hours of sleep.

I also bought Robb Wolf’s Wired to Eat. He wrote The Paleo Solution, so that might give you a sense of what Wired to Eat is about. I always say that the time in my life that I felt healthiest was when I was following a paleo diet pretty closely. (I also was like 24 and functioned better with a hangover than I would now after 10 hours of sleep.)

If you’ve got time, check out Robb Wolf’s appearance on Joe Rogan’s podcast.

The hodgepodge that comes from treating books like blogs and audiobooks like podcasts

In March, I’ve been experimenting with skimming more and not feeling the need to finish books from cover to cover. Oh yeah, so I’ve been reading:

  • Wired to Eat
  • Bigger, Leaner, Stronger
  • Hitman by Bret Hart (my favorite wrestler but man nothing is ever his fault according to him)
  • Born to Fight (MMA fighter Mark Hunt’s biography)
  • Flow (finally reading something by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi instead of something referencing him a dozen times)
  • Snow Crash (I finished this and it reminds me of Infinite Jest in that the writing and world-building is great but I needed to do some Googling to know what the hell happened)

And then an assortment of audiobooks:

  • Sapiens
  • How to Build Self-Discipline to Exercise
  • The Urban Monk
  • The Power of Thought
  • Designing Your Life
  • The Art of Possibility

What’s happened is that I’m skimming more but still feeling like I should read some of them thoroughly, which causes some kind of anxiety. I’ll stick to it for a few more weeks, but it seems to be a step back in practicing focus.

Shane Parrish and Naval Ravikant: Monkey mind

Ravikant talks about the monkey mind and throughout the podcast he talks about not being as angry as he used to be. He says that he would go through a lot of the same things but without the emotion and anger.

To be able to control the monkey mind you need to recognize that it’s there in the first place. When you sit down and meditate for the first time one of the things that you can accomplish pretty quickly is recognizing how many thoughts you have banging around your brain.

I’ve been reading Snow Crash and one of the excerpts I liked is where he talks about hearing some crazy story and taking all the facts in and what that process feels like.

Hiro puts his head in his hands. He’s not exactly thinking about this; he’s letting it ricochet around in his skull, waiting for it to come to rest.

Our minds really can be like those lottery things where all of the ping-pong balls are bouncing around. Or like the Crystal Maze where all the money is flying around in the chamber.

With enough meditation I’m hoping I can be more like bubble bobble where all the balls are organized and I can choose which one to focus on and move them around freely.

Being a straight-A student, even after school ends

I wrote about Cal Newport’s appearance on Pat Flynn’s podcast. I mentioned that they go through Cal’s history as an author. They talk briefly about How to Become a Straight-A Student, and Cal says that the one thing that matters above all others as a student is active recall.

In the past couple weeks since listening to the podcast, I’ve been recording voice notes to try applying the concept in a non-academic setting. It’s been good exercise just talking through post ideas to organize my thoughts.

That made me realize that these blog posts are very short essays. It struck me that How to Become a Straight-A Student might have some other useful tools.

It did. He talks about falling off the wagon:

To date, I have yet to have successfully followed any time-management system without interruption for longer than two months. I try, but inevitably I hit a rough patch. Typically, this happens during the few days following a really busy period—I’m so exhausted from the intensity of the preceding work that I find myself unable to even mention the word “to-do” without breaking into a cold sweat.

There’s value in knowing you’ll fall off the wagon. Mostly because you can prepare for it. He explains how a student can reset and get back on the system.

Let’s apply that elsewhere… say you signed up for a gym to re-prioritize your health. I’m trying to improve on planning workouts ahead of time. Now I know to also look for speed bumps where I’ll fall off the wagon and have a plan to reset and get back on it.

I’m going to a bachelor party in Austin in a couple weeks. There’s going to be barbecue in amounts ranging from mental guilt from eating to just plain physical pain from eating.

It’s a very, very clear speed bump. I’ve got a free training session as a sign-up bonus so I’m planning to schedule that for the week that I get back from Austin. Getting back on the wagon is easier with a little help, and I’ll be ready to be a straight-A student.

NAQ (Never asked questions): Why are you using voice notes for rough drafts?

I wrote about The Clown vs. The Editor as part of book notes for How to Write Funny by Scott Dikkers. Here’s my description of the collaboration between the clown and editor:

The Clown, being an irresponsible clown, hands this pile of scraps to The Editor and expects him to get to work. It’s better if the scraps have been sitting for a few days. Otherwise The Editor is aware that he’s actually me, except with much less face paint.

Getting to the first draft is important. Speed is good here. Authors call it the throw-up draft, the down draft, and many other names emphasizing that whatever’s going on the page is bad, and that’s okay.

I’m hoping that voice notes serve as a very first, very rough draft. A clown doesn’t sit at a desk at all. But he would certainly do some voice recordings.

I’ve experimented with dictating text. I would end up with giant walls of text that were unusable because I didn’t want to revise. Dictation meant talking out punctuation, which felt stilted. It was a middle ground that wasn’t thoughtful or fluid.

Voice notes are very fluid because you can’t self edit.

I want to make sure to stick to a process. I’ll use the right tool:

  • Working on ideas and organizing information: mind maps and outlines
  • Voice draft: record a five minute voice note
  • First draft: Ulysses

Five minutes is a good amount of time to feel out whether I know what I’m trying to say. It gives me time to reorganize a little bit. And it lets me go off on a tangent. When I hit five minutes, I can start a new note to either re-focus or go ahead and explore that other idea. Five minutes is short enough that I don’t feel like it’s really wasting any significant time, even if nothing usable comes from it.

For the past couple weeks, the recording part has been working pretty well.

Now I’m practicing going through voice notes and write a first draft. This is the beginning of a system I see a lot of promise in and plan to improve on in future posts.

Journal 19: Frank’s Neo-Xanga

Every week or two, I change my mind about which direction to take this blog.

I started by posting daily, then thought I wanted to put together short videos (and then didn’t make any), then I thought I’d focus on learning to draw, then I tried focusing on book notes, then I said I’d do photo walks every few days. Lately I’ve been trying to focus on the newsletter and share three excerpts from things I’m watching, reading, or listening to.

I’ve been testing recording voice notes through the week to do some parts of writing while walking around. They’re supposed to act as rough first drafts but now I have a bunch of rough first drafts I’m putting off parsing through. I think it’ll be useful but I need to build a system around it.

I started listening to the audiobook version of Designing Your Life. It reminded me of the value of prototyping and testing. Where I slip up is failing to factor results into my future actions. I find out something doesn’t work, then wait a few weeks and I try it again without really changing much.

It’s been a few weeks, but my enthusiasm for drawing is back. Today I went to a coffee shop and drew for 40 minutes. So I’m thinking I might draw more and have the newsletter be primarily my thoughts on learning to draw. So I might test this out next week. I’ll draw something about New York and write about it. Then start an Instagram account and build up some momentum. Then get sponsored posts and kiss this old life goodbye!

Or not, but I’ll keep trying things out. What I’m learning is that my enthusiasm for any particular direction will have ups and downs. But having consistent enthusiasm for putting work into this blog is encouraging.

Oh yeah, steering this back to drawing, here’s what drawing New York things might look like.

Drawing New York: Ikinari, East Village

The other week, my girlfriend and I went to Ikinari. It’s a Japanese chain where you order meat by the gram and eat standing up. You go to the meat counter, tell them what cut you want (rib eye, sirloin, or filet) and how many grams you want. They give it their best guess, cut it, weigh it, then cut off a piece to get it to your requested weight.

(This might be the best hand I’ve drawn.)

You got to your standing table and they bring the steak out with corn and onions cooked on a flat top.

I enjoyed it. If you want a good steak in a casual setting, it’s a great spot. I’ve heard the wait is getting longer and longer. I like most food, which becomes a problem when talking about food places. Introducing my how-long-would-I-wait-in-a-line rating: I’d wait 25 minutes to eat here.

For calibration, here are some places off the top of my head and their ratings, given about 15 seconds of thought.

  • Shake Shack, Madison Square Park: 15 minutes (But if it were my first time then I’d wait for however long.)
  • Hometown (AYCE hot pot and BBQ): I waited 3 hours with a friend that turned into 2 hours but we went to a bar nearby during the wait so definitely take that into account. Completely worth it.

Now I want to make a giant spreadsheet. I’ll stop here for now.

Re-reading books and remembering they’re a part of us

Last week, I wrote about Naval Ravikant’s appearance on Shane Parrish’s podcast. Ravikant skims a lot of books. He describes books becoming a part of you:

“I don’t know about you, but I have a very poor attention. I skim. I speed read. I jump around. I could not tell you specific passages or quotes from books. At some deep level, you do absorb them and they become part of the threads of the tapestry of your psyche. They do kind of weave in there.”

Ravikant says that he finds himself re-reading as much as he reads new material. In one of Tim Ferris’s podcast episodes, his guest asks when he’ll stop with the podcast. Tim says that he still loves doing it because he gets to talk to so many interesting people. But he does acknowledge that the amount of knowledge and his current library could be abstracted to provide guidelines for anyone to live a good life.

At a certain point, I feel like I’ve read enough books to have the guidance to live the life I want to live. I’ll probably be better off reading an old book that I know is great than diving into an old one. So I’ve started re-reading some of my favorite books from the past few years.

It’s always shocking seeing how much I’ve forgotten from the books. If it’s been a year or more, it’s almost entirely a new book. Sometimes I barely remember any specific passages but I know they’ve had lasting influence on me. It’s similar to how all our early lessons are a part of us even though our memory is very faulty.

Enthusiasm and happiness

A good way to remember things from books I’ve read is to just browse through my highlights. I’ve highlighted pretty heavily in Kindle books for the past few years. This week, I took a look through my highlights from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Here’s something she wrote about enthusiasm, expertise, and practice.

“Enthusiasm is more important to mastery than innate ability, it turns out, because the single most important element in developing an expertise is your willingness to practice.”

She’s comparing enthusiasm and ability to mastery. It’s interesting to think that when I first read this, I probably entirely agreed. (“Follow your passion!”) Now I think it’s closer to a chicken and the egg thing.

If enthusiasm comes first, then you’ll be able to master things that you like. People say to think about what you liked doing as a kid and that’s what you’re really passionate about. However, I loved video games and would never want to be a professional gamer. Watching behind the scenes of high-level sponsored gamers, I get the sense that it isn’t much fun in tournaments or in training. It seems like… work.

If ability comes first, you’ll practice enough to get good at it. You’ll then become enthusiastic about it because you’re good at it. The things we loved as kids were also usually things we were good at. I liked video games and was good at them. Computers were sort of like games in that you have some kind of control that changes things on screen.

Making websites has been my job for the past few years. I didn’t know what a website was until I was eleven. Was I enthusiastic about them? Only for consuming them. Did I have innate ability? I got good math grades but had no experience with computers.

In that case, enthusiasm and ability grew together: I learned to make them and became enthusiastic about making them, built my skill up, and got more enthusiastic about making them.

Follow your passion and you’ll want to practice enough to master it. Or practice something enough and you’ll get good enough to have real passion for it. They… both make sense. If instead of making websites I was building my writing and thinking skills up, I might be able to parse this and make a better point.

But I want to focus on drawing, so here’s an egg.

Journal 18: The Duel

Welcome to the first edition of this newsletter that I’m actually sending out to subscribers. I was thinking of different names so that it wouldn’t just be called Francis’s Newsletter.

My content has been centered around three things: walking, drawing, and shooting. Maybe I’ll call it The Duel. I can look at the name and remember what’s important.

The duel is against myself. When I walk, I clear my mind by silencing my negative thoughts. When I draw, my pencil battles against forces trying to keep creativity stagnant. When I shoot, I open up a third eye that sees new worlds outside and within.


I’m gonna go ahead with Francis’s Newsletter.

Treating my blog like a blog

My March experiment will be returning to writing single posts with ideas from multiple books. I’ll move away from writing multiple posts about single books. I think this will get me away from the guilt of a (virtual) pile of unfinished books.

I’m also trying more voice recording. I’ve tried writing strictly with dictation and it never really works out. I can generate a lot of text that nobody wants to read by rambling. I’d never edit it down.

Instead I’ve been using Just Press Record. It’s less stilted than when I dictate because I don’t have to say the punctuation and things like that. It transcribes the audio and what comes out is, well, text without punctuation and things like that.

While the wall of text is useless on its own, talking things out gives me a good sense of what my main point is. Also, timing myself speaking is more effective than timing myself writing. If I set a timer for three or five minutes then I only talk for that amount of time. And I’ll really talk the entire time.

If I set that same timer for writing it could be that I think and then self edit and only have a few sentences by the end of it. I might not have even figured out what I want to say.

Naval Ravikant on reading books like blogs

I’ve been reading through the transcript for Naval Ravikant on the Farnam Street podcast . It’s 46 pages and I’ve gotten through about a quarter of it and am going to listen to the rest. It reminds me of just how much content podcasts have.

Ravikant says he doesn’t really consider books a cost. It’s more of an investment in himself. I have the same approach to books as far as not feeling guilty about buying books. I think it comes from how my parents treated books.

Growing up, I had a weekly allowance but my parents would pay for any book without taking it out of my allowance. On weekend mall trips, I’d always look forward to Waldenbooks. I would go to game stores, book stores, and then the arcade.

Ravikant says he treats books like they’re blogs1. I like his comparison to blog archives. You wouldn’t just read an archive from start to finish. You would look and try to find the most interesting posts. In the same way, he goes through books and reads the most interesting sections.

Ravikant estimates that he reads about $20 of every $200 of book purchases. I’m at around $120 of every $200 of book purchases. There are good and bad things going either way. My percentage read is higher but I bet his totals are much higher. I might be reading a lot of things that aren’t all that valuable.

He calls out the societal idea that we need to finish reading books from start to end. If I’m reading nonfiction from cover to cover, I could probably afford to skip around more. If the table of contents looks like a blog archive, I should consider skipping through different parts of it rather than treating it like a novel.

Unless it’s a Michael Lewis book. He maintains a single deep narrative with lessons woven throughout. It’d be great if he weren’t the exception and more books were like his.

Instead, I’ll try skipping when I come upon the seventeenth person’s interpretation of the marshmallow study.

A map from the gist

Ravikant treats books like they’re blogs—I’m gonna try treating my next few audiobooks like they’re podcasts. I’ll jump around or skip forward if the chapter isn’t interesting.

I tried this with The 12-Week Year and was able to get the gist of the book on my first listen. One advantage of listening this way is being able to see all the connections between ideas. One disadvantage is I got the gist and only the gist. I’ll have to re-listen to understand it deeper.

The book in three sentences (took this idea from James Clear): Make 12 week plans instead of annual plans. Execute on your weekly plan. Score each week.

I liked the emphasis on trusting your weekly plan. You don’t want to create plans from scratch every week or else your weekly plan will always look like a list of urgent things. Not all of them are important for long term goals.

This is something I fall into. I don’t look at my monthly or yearly plans often enough. My weekly planning often resembles how I used to do daily planning: I move all my unfinished things from last week into this week.

Here’s a very rough 12-week plan for this blog.

  • Big goal: get to my first 1,000 subscribers: I want to double the number of mailing list subscribers each week. That would get me to 2048—which seems entirely out of reach right now. So I’ll try for 1,000.

That’s measurable. So then grouping a few of the weeks.

  • Weeks 1 to 4: 8 posts, 10 subscribers — Redesign the front page and single posts.
  • Weeks 5 to 8: 16 posts, 100 subscribers — Start sharing content on Instagram and Pinterest.
  • Weeks 9 to 12: 32 posts, 1000 subscribers — Write an eBook with links to a mailing list sign-up on every other page.

That last one is a joke, god I hate when I see that. I don’t have a weekly plan yet but I do have one idea in mind.

  • Every week: Share a post with one person I haven’t shared content with before.

Oh yeah, and a lot of reviewers say that the book ignores the fact that companies already plan this way and they’re called quarters. The Quarter Year isn’t as catchy. I liked some of the ideas in the book so I’ll give it a re-listen.

Trevor Noah on using language to fit in

I finished listening to Born a Crime a couple weeks ago. If you want to get into audiobooks it’s probably good to start with a comedian you enjoy who narrates his own book. This has never failed me.

A lot of what Trevor Noah talks about in Born a Crime revolves around language. One of the themes is how knowing so many different languages helped him in many situations. He says it’s one of the quickest ways to connect with another person. It also depends on the context.

He says that growing up he wasn’t a popular kid and he wasn’t an outcast. She could be a part of any group as long as they laughed together. He could drop by, tell a few jokes and then leave before wearing out his welcome.

In this way he described himself as a chameleon.

This concept of using language to fit in is really powerful. It’s also important to know some of the pitfalls that can happen. If you try to fit in using someone else’s language then it becomes very apparent if you fumble something. In a way it could be worse than not knowing the language at all.

Language doesn’t have to be foreign language either. If you work in some specialization you’re probably speaking a certain language. Slang or jargon you use day-to-day is part of some kind subsection of language.

If you’re trying to fit in and you say oh man I can’t wait for this football match, hopefully you’re in Europe and not a Steelers bar.

  1. This is great because with the rise of self-publishing, a lot of people are treating their blogs like they’re books. Nothing like a mailing list link in the introduction to make you more aware that you’re somewhere in their cross channel marketing funnel.

Journal 17: More Things I Learned

(Then even more things I learned, then scary things to learn in the dark, etc.)

I didn’t draw as much this week. I did write a few posts:

  • Podcast Notes: Cal Newport and Pat Flynn — I’ve been reviewing Cal Newport’s Deep Work lately. His appearance on Pat Flynn’s podcast was a nice surprise. I wrote some notes about their discussion.
  • Book Notes: The Alchemist — I finished reading the alchemist last week and wrote some notes for it I haven’t quite posted to the front page because I don’t have a drawing related to it right now. My book notes expand on the blurb about The Alchemist that I wrote in my last journal post: passion isn’t everything (Hey hey, Newport and Flynn talk about that on a certain podcast), but affirmations do have a lot of power.
  • Book notes: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running — I listen to this audiobook in a day or two. I’ve been doing this more often just walking around listening to audiobooks in a few days. It seems much more effective than when I read through but very quickly and and mostly skimming it. Getting through large chunks of books in one go that makes it easier to see connections. It’s like binge watching a TV show over a weekend versus watching the season through normal weekly releases. I imagine the same negatives come with that as well. Oh yeah, the book. It could basically be called what I write about when I write about writing. There’s so much insight into how he approaches writing and what it means to live his life as a writer. There are pitfalls and there are great things about it and he’s able to explain that and related to his other interest: long distance running.

This week, I’ll try again with notes from three different sources. Last week it was all books. It won’t be that way every week. I want to mix some podcast notes, YouTube videos, and any other thing I might find some inspiration from.

(As I’m writing that I’m realizing this is just about the standard newsletter format.)

Laughing every day

In the past year, I’ve read a handful of books about writing comedy. Unfortunately (for me), you wouldn’t be able to guess that by my writing. I started another one, Comedy Writing Secrets by Mark Shatz and Mel Helitzer. Here’s one of the early suggested exercises:

List your ten favorite comedians and humorists, and use the Internet to search for jokes or quotes by each of these individuals. After you amass twenty jokes, write each joke on an index card. On the back of each card, identify the subject or target of the joke, and explain why you think the joke is funny. This exercise will help you become aware of the format of successful jokes and provide you with insight into your own comedic preferences.

I’m realizing just how little I’ve actually executed on the different exercises offered up in all the comedy writing books. My takeaway from all of those books and any interview with comedians is that it can be learned but it’s very hard work. Then I proceed to not do any of the hard work. I haven’t tried creating association lists or anything like that.

I used to have a template for daily journaling. It had the usual things like gratitudes and picking out most important tasks. I also wrote one thing that made me laugh every day.

By far, those laugh sections are the best reason to go back and read those old journal entries. It best captures how much there is to enjoy day to day. A lot of the entries would be about some dumb thing a friend texted. And I’m able to remember how I felt reading it.

I suspect doing this would have a similar effect to writing gratitudes every day. I’ll try that on my own and also try explaining why I found it funny. Because jokes you have to explain are the best kind.

Daily decrease

I read Declutter Your Mind last week and came across this Bruce Lee quote:

“It’s not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.”

In college I managed to lock down a single room at one of the dorms my sophomore year. I heard they were small, but then I opened the door and saw this.

It redefined what a small room was to me. Now that I’ve experienced New York apartments, it doesn’t seem so bad. In either case, spending a year in that dorm room showed me how much I needed to live comfortably. The answer: not much. I did a pretty good job avoiding acquiring stuff throughout the years. I did a suitcase-only move to New York.

In the past couple years I’ve really been able to start applying that type of thinking to other aspects in life. I’ve been enjoying just walking around for the sake of walking lately. Which is taking advantage of the city and taking it for granted at the same time.

I also ordered an iMac earlier this week and canceled and then ordered it again. I still like stuff, so I know I’m not quite ready to turn into a ball of plasma and join the energy stream. But maybe I can increase meditation sessions to 15 minutes.


I’ve been reading Snow Crash and I came into it thinking it was a super serious book about VR. I didn’t expect so much hilarious writing. Descriptions here and there keep making me chuckle. I’ll have to read more Neal Stephenson books. Here’s a description of gargoyles, who attached computers to themselves to become advanced PIs but look more like human surveillance systems:

Nothing looks stupider; these getups are the modern-day equivalent of the slide-rule scabbard or the calculator pouch on the belt, marking the user as belonging to a class that is at once above and far below human society.

It’s a perfect description of so many contemporary things. I used to use an armband with a slot to slide your iPhone into during workouts. When I wanted to change tracks I’d tap some things on my bicep or tricep depending on how much the armband moved around. It was just a few taps away from the Predator trying to blow up Arnold and the jungle.

Technology and startups are cool now. They’ll always be able to trace their lineage to some calculator pouch. I’ll always trace my lineage to weekends looked like this:

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami writes about his life and how running has always been a part of it. The audiobook is a little over four hours. I really enjoyed it. I’m not a runner but I enjoy learning about how writers go about their lives. Throughout the book he explains relationships between running and writing.

Stop when it’s getting good. My familiarity with Murakami was mostly seeing people reading IQ84 on the subway and thinking “Well that’s a huge book.” That wasn’t written in weeks. It took months, years to write. Running endurance takes months, years, to build up.

How do you show up every day? By choosing the right time to stop:

“Right now I’m aiming at increasing the distance I run, so speed is less of an issue. As long as I can run a certain distance, that’s all I care about. Sometimes I run fast when I feel like it, but if I increase the pace I shorten the amount of time I run. The point being to let the exhilaration I feel at the end of each run carry over to the next day.

This is the same sort of tact I find necessary when writing a novel. I stop every day right at the point where I feel I can write more.

Murakami acknowledges this is similar to Earnest Hemingway’s approach to stopping “where you still have your juice“.

Training focus. Murakami talks about talent and says there are people with overwhelming talent. He says there are a handful of writers through history who were born for it but that he’s not one of them. The good news is there are still plenty of great writers and it comes through practice. You practice prose and other writing concepts, but Murakami says it’s important to train your ability to focus:

“You’ll naturally learn both concentration and endurance when you sit down every day at your desk and train yourself to focus on one point.”

“In private correspondence the great mystery writer Raymond Chandler once confessed that even if he didn’t write anything, he made sure he sat down at his desk every single day and concentrated.”

More and more I’m learning how important it is to practice concentrating. Practice focus. Practice deep work.

Learning about meditation helped me understand this further. You don’t really stop and think about how many thoughts are racing through your head. Through meditation, you learn to recognize thoughts, acknowledge them, and return to your breathing.

You can’t expect to meditate for an hour straight right off the bat. It might be harder to focus on work for an hour straight right off the bat.

Clear red lights. He says one of the reasons he runs regularly is that he gains weight easily. He’s optimistic about this, though. He says that there’s probably a benefit to having a clear red light. If he didn’t gain weight, there’d be no signal to his body that he needs to take better care of it.

You’re going to get older, you’re going to get slower, and it’s okay. Murakami seems to always think long-term. He knew running every day will build a healthy foundation for his later years. He also seems comfortable getting older, even if things become slower and slower.

“Changes that used to take a month and a half now take three. The amount I can exercise is going downhill, as is the efficiency of the whole process. But what are you going to do? I just have to accept it and make do with what I can get. One of the realities of life. Plus, I don’t think we should judge the value of our lives by how efficient they are.”

I love this. In college, I was all about productivity blogs and todo lists and organizing projects by context so at every moment I could have a way to be doing something useful and increase my efficiency. That of course means mostly feeling guilty throughout the day in different contexts for not doing something you’ve deemed productive.

It’s easy to value efficiency for the wrong reasons. We complete tasks quicker to free up time for more tasks that we can work toward completing quicker. And on and on. It reminds me of Oliver Burkeman’s article at The Guardian—”Why time management is ruining our lives“.

That article is great in its entirety, but something that’s stuck with me is Burkeman’s description of sleep. There seems to be wider acceptance that we can’t run on 4 hours of sleep week after week. But Burkeman wrote that the rise in its acceptance is focused on efficiency:

“Even rest and recreation, in a culture preoccupied with efficiency, can only be understood as valuable insofar as they are useful for some other purpose – usually, recuperation, so as to enable more work. (Several conference guests mentioned Arianna Huffington’s current crusade to encourage people to get more sleep; for her, it seems, the main point of rest is to excel at the office.)”

Make sure to get really good sleep so you can do really good work.

Write, run, relax. Murakami’s daily routine is built around sleeping early and waking up early. Before writing novels, he ran a bar, which meant keeping the exact opposite schedule.

In the morning he writes for 3-4 hours. The middle of the day is for things requiring less concentration, including running. At the end of the day, he reads, listens to music, and takes it easy.

I’ve always been one of those people who doesn’t really get running. I couldn’t imagine enjoying running long distances. In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami explains what running means to him. It’s a lot more than just runners’ high. What does he think about what he thinks about running? Nothing in particular.

“As I run, I don’t think much of anything worth mentioning. I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void.”

After finishing this book, I went for a short run. Mostly I thought about how different parts of my lower body hurt. When things were going good, though, I could see flashes of the void at the end of the tunnel.

Podcast Notes: Cal Newport and Pat Flynn

Cal Newport was recently on Pat Flynn’s podcast talking about Deep Work. If I could pick one book from last year to read it would probably be Deep Work. I still don’t have a book notes post on it because I was planning to write some kind of epic post then, of course, that fell through the cracks.

Instead, I’ll start with some podcast notes.

Deep work is a skill, not a habit . When you’re seven years old, flossing is something you practice for like three days. After that it’s a habit you need to maintain. There isn’t a ton of room for improvement, though dentists disagree. Playing the guitar, on the other hand, takes practice. I don’t think anyone expects to be proficient after a few days practicing it.

You should approach deep work like a guitar, not a yard of floss. When you start doing it, you’ll concentrate for part of your blocked off time. At this point you might just say it’s not for you. It’s important to push through that and continue trying and improving at it. Over time, the sessions will improve.

It’s similar to meditation. Cal has his own version of that.

Active training and passive training. Athletes go to the gym to train. They lift weights and will do drills or skill work. This is active training, isolated to a few hours a day. For deep work, Cal says that one form of active training is productive meditation.

Here’s the description in Deep Work:

“The goal of productive meditation is to take a period in which you’re occupied physically but not mentally—walking, jogging, driving, showering—and focus your attention on a single well-defined professional problem. Depending on your profession, this problem might be outlining an article, writing a talk, making progress on a proof, or attempting to sharpen a business strategy.”

If your mind wanders, you bring your attention back.

Athletes make decisions outside of the gym that affect their performance. Tom Brady sleeps for 12 hours some nights. This is passive training. For deep work, it’s important to practice de-wiring your brain from stimulation throughout the day.

The example I practiced immediately after reading Deep Work was being conscious when I’m standing in a line at the grocery store. The default here was to check my phone. Look around the next time you’re in line somewhere, at this point it’s weirder if you’re not doing this. So be the weirdo.

It’s not for the sake of being present at that specific moment. You don’t need to take in the surroundings and appreciate the colors of Whole Foods. You just need to tell your brain that it’s okay that there’s nothing to do right at this moment.

Because when you’re in a deep work session, there’s going to be an urge to check your phone. Don’t.

Could you train a recent college graduate to do this in a couple weeks? If your answer is yes, then you probably have something more valuable to work on. Identify your skills that can’t be taught in a few weeks. Then make time practice deep work using those skills.

Deep work isn’t easy—you’ll be pushing your brain to focus without distraction for long periods of time. It’s important to apply that effort to the right work. You don’t want to spend hours, weeks, and months honing deep work skills and find out it was to become the best tooth flosser in the world.

Active recall. At the beginning of the podcast, Pat asks about Cal’s earlier work writing books about studying. If there was only one tip, what would it be?

Cal says it’s active recall. Re-reading book sections, re-reading your notes? Nope, it pales in comparison to trying to explain what you just learned out loud.

This post started as a voice note recording where I tried summarizing different topics that Cal and Pat discussed. I wanted to try active recall to see if it would help in writing a podcast notes post.

(But mostly I wanted to try drawing Arnold Schwarzenegger again.)

Morning dictation

I did some morning dictation. I put some book quotes in the left then talk through some thoughts on the right.

In the past I’ve used dictation and then generated pages and pages of text, just rambling. It becomes too much to want to wade through so I never end up using it. There’s probably something useful from speaking through things in the first place.

It might be good to give it some pre-structure before talking things through so that I can give myself swim lines for wading.

Here’s a quote from Bruce Lee in a book I’m reading about decluttering your mind:

“It’s not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.” – Bruce Lee

With voice dictation, I’m able to generate a lot of text. It’s inessential text. So I need to figure out how to hack away at it. Give it some structure.

I’m starting to think more and more about what is essential in this blog. What makes me happy to work on it every morning? What doesn’t? What will others like?