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.

Book Notes: The Alchemist

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. 

We Learn Nothing

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!”

It worked.


The Joy of Less

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.

  • Gather all similar things, then sort: Grab all your books from wherever they are. In my case they were in three or four different places. Putting them all together made it clear that I didn’t need those 2011 JavaScript books.
  • 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.

18 Minutes

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
  • Directive

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.

Flow junkes

Action sports are often marketed with adrenaline up front. The athletes are adrenaline junkies, living in a rushed state. The Rise of Superman explains that it’s far from the truth:

But they are all flow junkies—the difference is critical. And chemical. The fight-or-flight response—a.k.a. the adrenaline rush—cocktails adrenaline, cortisol (the stress hormone), and norepinephrine. It’s an extreme stress response. The brain switches to reactive survival autopilot. Options are limited to three: fight, flee, or freeze. Flow is the opposite: a creative problem-solving state, options wide open.

It reminds me of Alex Honnold, likely the best free climber in the world. The 60 Minutes feature “The Ascent of Alex Honnold” has footage of one of his climbs with another climbing expert explaining what’s going on. It’s methodical. The climbs can take hours. Honnold says that if he’s feeling that fight or flight response then something’s wrong.

Instead, he’s in flow. You can be in that state for long periods of time. If you enter a flow state doing sports can it help in other aspects of your life? Maybe:

People report feeling extraordinarily creative the day after a flow state, suggesting that time spent in the zone trains the brain to consistently think outside the box.

That’s not entirely scientific but I’ll take it.

If you can get into a flow state then you can learn to ride that wave for some time after.

I don’t have a wing suit and a cliff handy every day, so I’ve been interested in other ways to get into flow states. Team sports and group fitness classes seem to be a step in the right direction. Sitting still might help also.

High level meditators can achieve brain wave activity similar to a creative session in a flow state. “High level” means many years of practice. Someday it’d be nice to have a flow switch. In the meantime, I’ll continue working on the hodgepodge recipe of workouts, meditation, and standing on one leg in just this particular way. Whatever it takes, flow is worth it.

Flow and Animal Chin

I heard about this book through The Joe Rogan Experience #873, where Steven Kotler was a guest. Rogan talked about playing pool and mentions a term called "stroke". Being in the zone. You're hitting shot after shot without thinking about it.

Once you realize you're in stroke, you're knocked out of it.

If you think about flow you'll get knocked out of it. Which could be frustrating if you're chasing flow. Especially trying to achieve flow at a desk. There's less physical activity to keep your focus away from deliberate thoughts.

In Sick in the Head, Kotler writes about The Search for Animal Chin, a 1987 skateboarding film with a bunch of legends. People were able to see the top level of the sport and practice the tricks on their own. One of the first steps to doing something is knowing it's possible in the first place.

Skate videos through the 80s and 90s let people see what was possible. Now it's a little easier to see top level performers.

Any smartphone or tablet computer opens these same possibilities up to everyone. Want some Animal Chin in your own life? Join an online community. Watch videos. Read stuff. Get smarter. Try stuff. Get into flow. Use flow to do something amazing. Post videos. Teach others how you did it. And repeat. That’s what action and adventure athletes did, that’s one of the main reasons they went so far so fast.

One of the chapters talks about Danny Way jumping over The Great Wall of China. Just a few taps and you can see it online.

If you're learning anything, YouTube probably has something useful to watch. When I was learning to draw1, I searched for artists drawing at comic conventions.

Some things don't make as much sense to watch in process, like writing2. But you can watch interviews with writers. Even long form ones from book tours. One of my favorites is a discussion between George RR Martin and Stephen King. I wrote more about it in an earlier post.

The internet connects so many people. You can see top performers and you can teach people out there who you're further along than. Take advantage of it.

While you're at it, check out Animal Chin in its entirety. No need to ask your buddy to mail a VHS tape across the country.

  1. I still am learning to draw, so I'll get back to this. ↩︎
  2. A couple years ago, James Somers made Draftback to replay Google Docs revision history. This did of what skateboard videos did. I watched some of it and an immediate takeaway was seeing him use a TK in place of someone's name. I learned it in seconds and still do that to this day. Using placeholders helps a lot for staying in the same context, which in turn helps you stay in flow. ↩︎

Flow levels and entry points

Rise of Superman is about flow and action sports athletes. They achieve high levels of flow with regularity not seen in other fields. Steven Kotler explains how we can apply theirl techniques to reach flow in normal day to day work.

Why would you want to, anyway? For one, flow signals activities that go a long way toward happiness1.

In fact, when Csikszentmihalyi dove deeper into the data, he discovered that the happiest people on earth, the ones who felt their lives had the most meaning, were those who had the most peak experiences.

I’ve had after-dinner programming sessions where I look up and all of a sudden it’s 2am. Getting into flow at a desk takes a combination of things: a distraction-free workspace, headphones to block out noise, an interesting problem to work on, and on and on. Sometimes you get in flow, sometimes you end up scrolling through Twitter.

You can try that hit or miss approach or you can jump off a cliff with a wing suit on.

Different methods will get you to different levels of flow. I’m not planning on jumping off even a jungle gym anytime soon. What else can I try? It might just take picking a ball up.

Kotler points to traditional sports and includes a quote from Bill Russell:

“My premonitions would be consistently correct, and I always felt then that I not only knew all the Celtics by heart but all the opposing players, and that they all knew me. There have been many times in my career when I felt moved or joyful, but these were the moments when I had chills pulsing up and down my spine.”

You don’t have to be on the Cetics, either. This made me think of times when I’ve been in flow in the past few years. A pretty reliable method was playing basketball—poorly. Luckily there are plenty of other people at the same skill level.

When you’re running around the court you’re not usually consciously stopping and thinking about where on the court you need to go. Unless you’re setting a play up. Which is rare because, again, I don’t play at a high enough level.

I did a group rowing class recently would say I was in flow for parts of it. Particularly the end when it was timed for distance. At one point, the instructor was speaking to me directly and it took me about 15 seconds to realize she was even standing right next to me.

Being around a team or other people working toward the same goal helps you at least gets you out of your own head. I imagine this is part of why group cardio classes are popular.

Flow is worth searching for. I’ll start with looking for it at a local gym before jumping off ledges.

  1. I’ll probably read one of Csikszentmihalyi’s books next. His name pops up everywhere when learning about performance and happiness. ↩︎

Tools of Titans (of Comedy)

I started reading Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow when Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss came out. For a few days, I switched back and forth between them. A couple times, I’d forget which one I was reading because they’re both books of interviews. The comedians Apatow interviews are top performers, much like Ferriss’s guests.

There were some connections in what they do day to day. For my Tools of Titans notes, I wrote about something Ferriss does that relates to something Jerry Seinfeld does—I promise it’s not about writing an X on a calendar.

Writing notes for Sick in the Head gives me a chance to write about another connection between people in the two books. This one connects Jocko Willink and Michael Che

Jocko Willink has a chapter in Tools of Titans explaining why his response is “Good.” His response to what? Everything. It forces you to find the silver lining in things. Well, maybe the kevlar lining:

“Now. I don’t mean to say something clichéd. I’m not trying to sound like Mr. Smiley Positive Guy. That guy ignores the hard truth. That guy thinks a positive attitude will solve problems. It won’t. But neither will dwelling on the problem. No. Accept reality, but focus on the solution.”

There’s always a lesson in challenges.

Apatow interviews Michael Che in Sick in the Head. Che talks about his first night at the Comedy Cellar:

“So you know, Chappelle’s onstage. He’s killing for like forty-five minutes. Uncharacteristically gets offstage after like forty or forty-five minutes; everyone assumed he was going to be up there all night. So the next comedian to get onstage is Chris Rock. He gets onstage, and does like forty minutes. And the next comedian that gets onstage is me. I’m like, Fuck you.”

Do you remember this dunk? (YouTube link)

Maybe, and only as a reference to performing after someone else did something amazing. It was immediately  after Vince Carter’s 360 windmill in the 2000 NBA Dunk Contest—a legendary dunk1. Jerry Stackhouse’s 360 was fine but the crowd responded like he did a layup.

Che explains how he felt performing right after two legends:

“But you know what? It was good. And you know why? Because that crowd had seen ninety minutes of the best comedians in the world. I could not ruin their night. There was nothing I could say that was ever going to wipe that smile off those faces, man.”


  1. It’s the best in dunk contest history. If you can name a handful off the top of your head that were better, I’m either on your lawn or you need to get off mine. Whenever Kenny says the dunk contest is back he’s thinking about Vince Carter tearing down Oracle.

No idea? Unimportant idea? Obvious idea? Write anyway

Tim Ferriss says one of the best things about building his podcasting platform is that it allows him to meet and talk interesting people. (Joe Rogan says the same.) They’re top performers in their respective fields, but many guests write in some form. Ferriss often digs into their approaches to writing. Here’s some advice in Kevin Kelly’s chapter:

Write to Get Ideas, Not to Express Them “What I discovered, which is what many writers discover, is that I write in order to think. I’d say, ‘I think I have an idea,’ but when I begin to write it, I realize, ‘I have no idea,’ and I don’t actually know what I think until I try and write it. . . . That was the revelation.”

(Check out Kelly’s 1000 True Fans.)

I’ve seen this principle in other fields—in design you sketch to generate ideas. Design sprints have activities like crazy 8s1. There are always people who think they’ll have nothing to draw. No way they’ll have 8 things. Sure enough, the timer starts and ideas come out.

Sometimes it doesn’t seem as clear that writing anything is one of the best ways to generate ideas for writing.

Write even if you have something unimportant to say. On 10 Minute Writer’s Workshop, Tom Gauld is asked “What’s the worst advice?” He was quick to answer:

“There was a British playwright who said ‘Never write unless you have something important to say.’ Which I just thought maybe if you’re really a confident person full of opinions that’s a great piece of advice. But I think most writers are constantly worried that what they have to say isn’t worthwhile. And I think you just have to try saying it and hopefully something will come together.”

Sometimes you’ll find something important to say after writing a couple pages of unimportant things. Other times something unimportant to you is really important to other people. Derek Sivers wrote about this in Obvious to You, Amazing to Others:

But I continue to do my work. I tell my little tales. I share my point of view. Nothing spectacular. Just my ordinary thoughts.

One day someone emailed me and said, “I never would have thought of that. How did you even come up with that? It’s genius!”

(Check out my other post about that Sivers link.)

This blog wouldn’t exist2 if I only wrote when I have something important to say. One day I hope people find something amazing in it.

  1. Fold a piece of paper a couple times and then once the other way and you’ll have eight boxes. Set an interval timer for one minute and draw a different idea in each box. ↩︎
  2. Bringing up the eternal question: does this blog exist if it has no readers? ↩︎

Tools I’m using

Note: I’m writing a few posts about Tools of Titans. Check out the rest.

I finally finished Tools of Titans after a couple weeks. It’s a quick 700 pages if there ever was such a thing. If you like Tim Ferriss’s podcast you’ll like the book. Each chapter is a summary of wisdom from his podcast guests. Ferriss took about an hour of content from each guest and distilled the conversation into 2-4 pages of actionable material.

A complaint I see often about nonfiction books—specifically business or self-development—is that they take 20 pages of actionable here’s-what-you-do content and then stretch it out with 180 pages of anecdotes1. Tools of Titans is the opposite. It’s packed with here’s-what-you-do and has some shorter anecdotes. Longer stories remain in the hundreds of hours of podcasts.

By the end of it, I had over 200 highlights. I reviewed my highlights2 and starred my favorites and got it down to 23 highlights.

For older book notes post, I used to pick five highlights and write a blurb about each. I was always worried about over-excerpting. And 23 would be way too many excerpts for a single post.

More recently I’ve picked three highlights and written separate posts for each. I can go a little deeper on individual ideas.

Tools of Titans has so much I want to share. I’ll try both approaches. I’m working on 3 individual posts around single quotes. This post will be the collection of shorter blurbs. Here are a few ideas from the book that I’ve started using in the past couple weeks.

If you’re replaying some bullshit in your head and notice it, just say, “Thinking, thinking” to yourself and return to your focus.

Done consistently, my reward for meditating is getting 30% to 50% more done in a day with 50% less stress. Why? Because I have already done a warmup in recovering from distraction: my morning sit.

Picking meditation back up: Adding some more percentages, the first time I practiced meditation with any ounce of seriousness was after listening to 10% Happier by Dan Harris.

Eventually I got a headspace account and got a decent streak going. But one skipped day here and there turned to three skipped days.

Tools of Titans has recommendations of all kinds. Enough people in the book meditate (78 results in the book for ‘meditation’) that it’s lifted into power tool status among the rest of the toolbox.

I’ve begun meditating daily again. This time I’ll have a few more tips that I can put in place to help it stick.

Kelly elaborates on the rationale of zero drop: “Don’t systematically shorten your kids’ heel cords (Achilles) with bad shoes. It results in crappy ankle range of motion in the future. Get your kids Vans, Chuck Taylors, or similar shoes. Have them in flat shoes or barefoot as much as possible.”

Wearing my Vans again: While meditation is like a forklift in being a power tool, some recommendations are more like Command hooks. Advice as simple as “wear these”.

The forklift takes practice, but I can grab the Vans from my closet and put them on today. You’ll likely find a lot of small things from the book that you can apply immediately.

Wim takes cold to terrifying extremes (his retinas froze once while swimming in a lake under sheets of ice), but you can start with a cold water “finish” to showers. Simply make the last 30 to 60 seconds of your shower pure cold. Among others in this book, Naval Ravikant ( page 546 ), Joshua Waitzkin ( page 577 ), and I now do this.

Finishing showers cold: At the end of showers I’ve started finishing with cold water for about a minute. I’ve started looking forward to it. In the morning, it wakes me up. At night, it signals that it’s time to wind down. If anything, it makes the minutes getting dressed afterward pleasant because everything feels so freaking warm in comparison.

One frequent pattern is listening to a single track or album on repeat, which can act as an external mantra for aiding focus and present-state awareness.

Tools of Titans has a lot of internal links. It’s easy to jump back and forth in the Kindle version. If someone else does something similar, there’s a link to that other person’s chapter. If the pattern is prevalent enough—like meditation—it gets its own standalone chapter. These chapters were among my favorite.

I’ve listened to a single track on repeat while working in the past. So I started doing it again lately and went back to the same song I used to use: Weezer’s “Only in Dreams”. Which apparently is one the band’s most hated songs.

The A.V. Club’s Kevin McFarland wrote about this along with an excellent description of the song itself:

Restarting from the initial crawling pace at the song’s beginning, the sound builds, and relentlessly keeps building—the band slowly but surely moving up a mountain toward the summit. First the guitar strumming picks up, then Sharp’s bass shifts into double-time, and then Wilson’s ride strikes on every beat. Two guitar lines emerge, pushing and pulling off each other, both awash in distortion, rising louder, the tension drawing out seemingly forever, until finally Wilson slams his loudest five snare hits, and the greatest Weezer guitar solo emerges, an avalanche anchored by the ever-present bass line

It’s perfect for working to.

Even if you consider yourself a terrible writer, writing can be viewed as a tool . There are huge benefits to writing, even if no one—yourself included—ever reads what you write. In other words, the process matters more than the product.

Continuing with morning pages: I actually started again after reading How to Write Funny a few weeks ago. Tools of Titans mentions morning pages a few times. Morning pages have helped me get there.

My current ideal solo morning is a workout followed by morning pages. Something from The Miracle of Morning Pages (my notes) is the importance of stopping after filling three pages. Anything over is indulging.

The key is being disciplined in that hard stop. It means it’s time to get more focused. My hard stop is 25 minutes. I start a text file on Monday each week and write in it freely.

I review the pages for ideas to write about. This goes against the original Morning Pages guidelines—best that they’re not read by anyone, including yourself. However, it’s been working well for me in trying to write 2-3 posts each week.

If I sleep poorly and have an early morning meeting, I’ll cancel the meeting last-minute if needed and catch up on sleep. If I’ve missed a workout and have a conference call coming up in 30 minutes? Same. Late-night birthday party with a close friend? Not unless I can sleep in the next morning.

Working toward prioritizing health: Ferriss really captured what it means to prioritize something. Health in my head has been a top priority but my actions haven’t reflected that. Instead of exercising, I was more likely to write, read, or stay in bed.

Since started this book, I’ve been more consistent with morning workouts. In the next year I’ll remind myself to take a look and see if my actions are reflecting the priorities I set in my head. Health will be near the top.

Tools of Titans is a perfect book to end the year with. in preparing and planning out next year.

I think 2017 will be amazing. 2017 will be amazing.

2017 will be amazing. 2017 will be amazing. 2017 will be amazing. 2017 will be amazing. 2017 will be amazing. 2017 will be amazing. 2017 will be amazing. 2017 will be amazing. 2017 will be amazing. 2017 will be amazing.

(Another tool in the book: affirmations, baby! Though the titans would probably advise that I be a bit more specific.)

  1. I don’t share this complaint mostly because stories provide so much value. They’re entertaining and are really what make lessons stick. This is why you need to learn things firsthand sometimes. You don’t think that problem you had hasn’t been written about? Of course it has, and there’s probably good information for preventing it in the first place. But you wouldn’t have paid attention anyway because you needed a more powerful story, your own failure, to align it to. I just watched Arrival and there’s a part where she’s trying to explain her point and then just ends up telling a proverb and the military guy is like “ohhhhhh”. ↩︎
  2. I highlight pretty liberally. This is a rare time that I went back through all my highlights from a single book and reviewed them. I really need to do it more often to digest things. I did it during one session on a stationary bike. Now that’s… a valuable exercise! ↩︎

Star gazing

In Tools of Titans, a couple of Tim Ferriss’s guests mention the benefits of looking at the sky once in a while. I liked BJ Miller’s description:

“Then you start looking at the stars, and you realize that the light hitting your eye is ancient, [some of the] stars that you’re seeing, they no longer exist by the time that the light gets to you. Just mulling the bare-naked facts of the cosmos is enough to  thrill me, awe me, freak me out, and kind of put all my neurotic anxieties in their proper place.

Ferriss himself says “star therapy” is part of his nightly routine.

In Sick in the Head, Judd Apatow has his collection of interviews with comedians—titans in their own right. Apatow talks to Seinfeld about feeling irrelevant compared to everything else going on in the world. Apatow asks how he gets over feeling like a drop in the ocean. Seinfeld embraces it:

You look at some pictures from the Hubble Telescope and you snap out of it. I used to keep pictures of the Hubble on the wall of the writing room at Seinfeld. It would calm me when I would start to think that what I was doing was important.

What situations and decisions seemed very serious in the past ten years? A lot. College finals seem magnitudes more important than they actually ended up being.

Years later, how many of these situations had repercussions matching the perceived weight at the time? A few. A few end up laughable in hindsight. There’s value in striving for excellence daily, but not to the point of anxiety.

Too many moments in too many days seem overwhelming. They’ll be forgotten in a few weeks, not to mention months or years. Just completely forgotten. You can’t get upended by everything. There’s value in recognizing a thought and letting go if worrying won’t help—in most cases it won’t. You can practice that.

That practice can start by looking at the stars.


Funnier morning pages

Like other creative pursuits, writing a few good jokes starts with writing a bunch of bad jokes. Dikkers lays out a few exercises for generating ideas.

The first exercise is the Morning Pages: Write for a half hour
every day, without stopping, no matter what you’re writing—and no matter how bad you think it is.

I’ve tried Morning Pages in the past in many forms. I tried 750words.com, doing it longhand the prescribed way, and just typing freely.

Dikkers suggests looking back and reading old morning pages to see if any ideas are still good. This goes against the prescribed method, which would have you burn the pages before re-reading them. The point being that you’ll be deeply honest in the pages knowing nobody will read them—even yourself.

If the goal is to write jokes, you should be honest while actively thinking about what’s amusing in all these things.

I’m writing this first draft on a bus right now. Everyone looks the same. Five people in dark down jackets looking at their phones. What’s amusing about this? What would people be doing fifty years ago? What would an alien think of this? How can I exaggerate this completely?

It reminds me of Infinite Jest in how I find myself truly staring at a phone for an hour at a time, stuck on my couch. Just scrolling and reading news mindlessly.

The only funny thing right now is probably how hard you might be rolling your eyes because I just referenced something in Infinite Jest.

I’ll keep reading so I can learn how to take ideas from the walls of text that Morning Pages generate.

Something about how walls in Magic: The Gathering are the most boring cards. I haven’t seen walls this boring since I played Magic! Okay that’s a bad one. The book never says it’s easy.

The Clown vs. The Editor

Scott Dikkers was an original founder of The Onion, which has made me laugh a lot through the years. I’ve read a few comedy books and it’s always better when I have an idea of what the author’s humor is like. I really enjoyed Dikkers’s book, How to Write Funny. Now I need to put the reading into practice. This probably won’t be funny.

Throughout the book, Dikkers refers to The Clown and The Editor. It’s great imagery for remembering the different hats to wear. Or horrible because The Clown really does just make me think of It.

In Clown mode, you churn out ideas without worrying about quality. Quantity is all that matters.

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.

I put my Clown hat on this week and tried thinking about anything funny about creativity. Let me get some scraps down.

There’s something funny about wanting to get in flow but never acknowledging it or it’ll knock you out of flow. There’s something funny about all the people inspired by The War of Art who write blog posts (ahem) and books that are worse versions of The War of Art. OH. The War of Art is one letter away from The War of Fart.

The Editor starts every morning wondering if he should light the scraps on fire or use it as kindling to light himself on fire.

“This probably won’t be funny.” — Me, like 40 seconds ago.


This is part of a set of book notes posts for How to Write Funny by Scott Dikkers

Dikkers talks about subtext and its importance in writing jokes. He explains subtext and provides a bunch of examples showing the subtext of different jokes:

Fun Fact: If you stretched out your intestines they would reach all the way to the cabin in the woods you were murdered in.

SUBTEXT: It’s a little unsettling when people point out how long our intestines are.

Throughout the rest of the book he continues pointing out subtext in jokes. With good subtext, you’re in a good spot. You can work from there.

Subtext applies to other creative things. What’s the subtext of this blog? I’m trying to improve creatively but foolishly think I can shortcut my way there.

What’s the subtext what’s the subtext what’s the subtext. That can be my mantra when writing jokes. Or writing anything.

Steven Pressfield wrote about something similar in Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t:

When you as a writer carry over and apply this mode of thinking to other fields, say the writing of novels or movies or nonfiction, the first question you ask yourself at the start of any project is, “What’s the concept?”

He describes it as concept and subtext seems to be concept applied to jokes.

Let me try finding subtext to a joke. I went to a Chuck Klosterman talk today and he re-told a Mitch Hedburg joke. Someone asked if we should still be motivated looking for answers if we’ll probably be very wrong anyway.

You shouldn’t just stop because you know the ending will be bad. It’s like one of Mitch Hedburg’s jokes.

“Why do you drink, Dont you know you’ll get a hangover?”

“Yeah. At the end.”

It’d be like not eating apples because you know there’s a core.

How much can an ending really ruin the rest of the journey? Lost fans might chime in here.

The subtext is that people rarely consider consequences. Well, they do, but it’s hard to have the right perspective in comparing experiences if one is happening right now and the other is later on. Would anyone drink if the cost was having the headache before drinking?

Well, yes. Probably. Bad example.

Maybe the subtext is simply that people love alcohol.

What other jokes come from the consequences subtext? What’s worth doing something horrible for?

It’s the opposite of exercising, where you intentionally feel like garbage to feel better the entire rest of the time.

My favorite Tim Ferriss Show episodes

I’m excited for Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss’s 4th book, coming out in December. I want to set some time aside to devour it, then write and draw a book notes post.

His first three books are all related in that they’re not quite what their titles suggest. The 4-Hour Chef isn’t really about cooking, it’s about meta learning. The 4-Hour Body is really about trying things yourself and seeing the results. The 4-Hour Work Week is really about systems.

Ferriss published the audiobook version of Daily Rituals. He loves getting into the actionable aspects of other people’s day to day. From things he’s said leading up to its release, it seems like he’ll be making a tome of knowledge from the podcast.

Tools of Titans will be over 700 pages. I’m guessing it will cover the routines and systems of world-class performers. But it will really be about practical application of that knowledge. I’m guessing Tools of Titans will be something like Daily Rituals, except with his podcast guests replacing the historical figures.

The Tim Ferriss Show has a lot of significance for me and this blog. Earlier this year, Ferriss talked about writing two crappy pages as his goal. I started aiming to write two crappy pages each day.

Then I tried posting daily for 100 days. After finishing that, I turned my attention to drawing. Which led to the current form this blog has taken: I write a weekly post with some drawings to accompany it.

A lot of the posts I wrote were basically show notes of his podcast episodes. Here are five of my favorite episodes from the past year.

Chase Jarvis: This is the episode where he talks about two crappy pages. Ferriss talked about starting the podcast and not worrying about the equipment or insanely high audio quality. He knew people would be listening while doing other things. Audiophiles don’t test setups with podcasts. 

He made sure it was easy to do. Podcasts are a great format for that because he could go long with minimal editing.

Through this year I’ve continued working on reducing any barriers in creating posts. I had a pretty good system. Then I started drawing and now I’m modifying my system.

David “DHH” Heinemeier Hansson: This probably has to do with me writing about the episode and drawing him. It was the first episode I wrote about in one of the Make Show Learn posts. I admire Basecamp’s view on work life balance being a part of a sustainable business.

Sustainability and consistency have been themes for me this year.

Malcolm Gladwell: This came out right in the middle of my 100 posts project. He talks about writing being blissful (check out my post about that). In the sense that most writing isn’t actually writing. It’s planning and editing. When he can really sit down and just write, that’s bliss.

Derek Sivers(That’s a transcript): Before the current iteration of this blog, I had random book notes posts. When I was in the 100 posts phase of this blog, a lot of times I was just trying to mimic what Derek Sivers had in his book notes section.

He shares a lot of great stories on the Tim Ferriss show. All with good lessons. He found success while making an effort to stay small.

Mike Birbiglia: I’m all-in on episodes with people talking about writing habits. Birbiglia goes to a coffee shop first thing in the morning and writes for at least three hours. Sometimes five.

Like other writers, he starts by getting words on the page with minimal editing. Everyone has different names for it. He calls it his throw-up pass. (See The vomit draft).

Most of the posts I wrote during the 100 days, 100 posts weren’t very good. I wrote about a quote Birbiglia talks about: Only emotion endures. It’s one of those 100 that I’m actually happy with in hindsight. 

Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t

I never took swimming lessons. My dad loved swimming and would try to take me out to the pool with the arm floaters and then he’d let go and I’d be yelling within a couple seconds.

Nobody wants to read your sh*t. The title can be backed up by opening up my site’s analytics. I enjoyed Steven Pressfield’s other books on writing: The War of Art, Do the Work, and Turning Pro.

They’re sometimes referred to as a trilogy. I’d say this is more like Prometheus than Alien: Resurrection. I think it’s more like, “Ok, you’re doing the work. You’re writing. Now it’s time to get better.”

I sat down at my laptop (again, right in the WordPress editor) to do the work. I knew I had a bunch of highlights from the book, so  I could just grab one and write thoughts on it. Except those highlights and notes seem to be gone after upgrading my phone. (I was highlighting in the Kindle app, but it was a free non-Kindle version of the book. I’m guessing they disappeared when I got an iPhone 7.)

Sometimes I use book excerpts a little heavily and they can be like the arm floaters. Today I’ll write without excerpts from the book.

It’s been a few months since I read it, which is great to gauge what really stuck with me.  I wrote it as a directive in my “Books I Read This Year” recap and it’s the lesson that stuck with me: always tell a story. That’s clear for novels and movie scripts. It applies in other fields, too.

The best ads tell a story in a few words. Even technical posts are more interesting when there’s a clear beginning (what’s the problem), middle (what’s can some technology do), and end (this is how the technology solved the problem).

In 5th grade, I went to the pool with some friends. I wasn’t allowed in the deep end because I hadn’t passed the swim test. Now I’m forgetting how they even knew who passed and who didn’t. I don’t remember them checking before you get in the pool. Maybe you get in trouble for running near the pool but you get in super trouble if you drown and haven’t passed the swim test.

Anyway, it was never great being one of the kids that couldn’t go to the deep end. There weren’t any pre-requisites for the swim test other than being ten years old. One day I got fed up and walked to the gym alone to take the test. First half: swim down the lane once, swim back once. No problem. Under control. To finish it off, I just had to wade for two minutes. I remember rising up as the lifeguard one-armed me to the surface.

Fall seven times, rise up eight, right? Right now I’m going sentence by sentence into the deep end. I’m seeing how far I can go and still keep my nose above the surface. Eventually I’ll be able to wade out there. Maybe I’ll write something worth two entire minutes of someone’s attention. Until then, I’ll write two crappy pages over and over until someone wants to read my shi*.

In your head, then on paper, then on screen

I guess it’s pretty clear that the programming portions of Flash Boys were most interesting to me.

They had been forced to learn to program computers without the luxury of endless computer time. Many years later, when he had plenty of computer time, Serge still wrote out new programs on paper before typing them into the machine. “In Russia, time on the computer was measured in minutes,” he said. “When you write a program, you are given a tiny time slot to make it work. Consequently we learned to write the code in ways that minimized the amount of debugging. And so you had to think about it a lot before you committed it to paper. . .

I don’t plan as much as I should.

Even with this website (and its previous Jekyll iteration), I open the files up and do some HTML/CSS edits. Live coding! I think there’s a place for it but for laying content out I think the results will nearly always be better by doing it in a graphics editor first.

When I’m designing in code, a lot of it ends up being ready, fire, aim. Then I stop when I have something acceptable. There’s a chance it’s good, but it’s unlikely to be great.

Doing a layout on paper and then in Sketch (or other graphics editor.

On a project with a team, there’s usually some kind of project management. Design and development might be done by completely separate people so this isn’t tightly coupled.

Working on this site solo, I just need to be better about remembering to plan and design before writing any code. I’ve tried restricting my time by saying “Oh I’ll only tinker on the weekend. I’ll write during the week.” The restriction is artificial though, so I’d find myself in a code editor on any random day instead of writing.

This time around I’m just keeping an updated list on a todos page. It gives me the satisfaction of knowing it’s written down somewhere that I might possibly get to down the road. Then when I set time aside to tinker, I’ll have a list of things to better prioritize.

It’s not quite programming on a 1980s machine with a limited amount of computer time. Or programming on paper while in prison. (Like Serge did later on.)

This reminds me of something from Founders at Work. The del.icio.us founder talks about building the site in small pieces over years.

I could come in and look at it, figure out what I’m doing, do it, and be done for the day in 15 minutes. So if I could get one thing done a day, I was happy. A lot of stuff, if I could spend more time, I did, but as long as I could get one or two things done a week total, if I didn’t have time, I didn’t have time.

If I didn’t have time, I… skipped sleep to get it done, stressed over it, got frustrated? Those are certainly options, but a lot of times it might be best to just not do it.

It’s one of the luxuries you can take with a side project. And I’d say it’s a luxury you need to take if you’re in it for the long run.

Todo: break the items in the todos page into smaller pieces.


Here’s my second note for Comedy Writing for Late Night TV (here’s the first note). Some meta points: I tried reading this with the tips I linked to about How to Read a Book (PDF).

  • I did a one hour reading session.

    • 6 minutes previewing: I always estimate that I can read 1 minute per page so I marked off the next 44 pages. I also thought of some questions to keep in mind after skimming.

    • 19 minutes reading: For a pomodoro

    • 5 minute break: Ok so this break makes it 65 minutes total

    • 25 minutes reading:

    • 10 minutes writing: That’s when I did the vomit draft of this post.

  • I ended up reading 83 pages in 44 minutes of reading and I felt very focused. I’m not sure if it’s meditation or what. I think it’s meditation. I noticed a lot faster if I wasn’t paying attention to the book so I didn’t need to re-read. I also was reading a hard copy of the book. I’ll see how helpful it is when I try this on a Kindle book.

Okay, enough writing about reading.

As mentioned, I had some questions in mind while reading. I’ll answer those now, for this post.

How can I apply what I learn?

I don’t work for a late-night TV show. I don’t write comedy regularly. I’m not part of a writing team. What I have in common is that late-night TV is the schedule. I’m trying to write every day. Their writers write every day. I’m trying to write entertaining posts. Their writers are focused on entertainment.

This reminds me of Ben Orenstein (developer at thoughtbot) mentioning that a tech talk should be entertaining. It’s not always the underlying point of a talk, but entertainment is the most effective use of the medium. If you want to get your actual point across, be entertaining. Here are some of Ben’s tips and a great talk about this: How to talk to developers (Rails Conf 2013).

The challenge in applying this is that I might not have an actual point.

What are the main points of the chapters I’ll be reading?

The chapters I read were about sketches. Beyond the monologue, writers create jokes for the other segments. Here are the different types of sketches in each chapter:

  • Joke basket sketches: These are collections of jokes built around a theme but without a storyline. Joe Toplyn explains how to create characters for these sketches. I mentioned my first post on this book that I used to catch a lot of The Tonight Show. My dad would watch a VHS recording of it every morning when I was growing up. I really enjoyed seeing Jay Leno’s Mr. Brain as a character example.

  • Story sketches: A story sketch is your traditional comedy sketch. He explains the steps then breaks down a story sketch called “SFX Burglar” on Conan O’Brien, showing how each step is applied. It was really cool to read his step-by-step explanation, read the raw script, and then finally watch the sketch on YouTube.

  • Parody sketches: Similar to a story sketch but based on existing things. He does another explanation and breakdown. This time it’s the “Oil of OJ” sketch on Jay Leno. I thought everything was on the internet but I couldn’t find this clip. The explanations are detailed. Joe Toplyn even shows example lists of associations that lead to the combinations used in the “Oil of OJ” sketch.

I’m really really enjoying this book. And I liked the results of this hourly reading breakdown. I have about 140 pages left. I might be able to finish the book in a couple hours and have a couple drafts of book note posts to share.