Make it easy

Books can affect you differently depending on when in your life you read them. Bad example: Oh, the Places You’ll Go! will be different for a high school graduate than it will be for an elementary school graduate.

Podcasts aren’t exactly at the point where you hand a graduate a card that says “Congratulations, listen to this.” followed by like a URL.

One episode has had that kind of effect on me: episode #159 of The Tim Ferriss Show, where he chats with Chase Jarvis. If this episode were a book, I’d sit it face out like people do with A New Earth or Unlimited Power. Or Web of Spider-Man #100 when I was graduating elementary school.

I’m writing this as a note to myself if I have the following thought: I’m trying to be creative and I’m struggling right now. Why am I doing this again?

Just listen to the first fifteen minutes if you’re short on time. Ferriss says two things that really motivated me. One is about starting his podcast:

“What would this look like if it were easy?”

To stay true to this question, Ferriss chose long-form interviews to keep editing to a minimum. He didn’t fuss around with equipment because perfect audio quality isn’t important for interviews. His rule: make it mono and loud enough.

This episode was released in May 2016. Chase Jarvis was on an earlier episode in May 2014. In those two years, the podcast went from one of Ferriss’s experiment to his main creative project. It quickly became one of the most popular podcasts, period.

The second thing that’s stuck with me is also about keeping things simple. Ferriss talks about setting easy writing goals to build momentum:

“Your goal should be two crappy pages a day. That’s it. If you hit two crappy pages, even if you never use them, you’ve succeeded for the day.”

The first time I listened to the episode, I decided to write and post daily for 100 days. After finishing that, I continued with 1-3 posts each week up to now.

I learned to show up. Recently, I’ve been recording podcasts and creating video presentations. I want to do another “X something in X days” project.

I’m not sure yet what the format will be. What I do know is that I can build momentum by making it easy.

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.)

Podcast Notes: Jerrod Carmichael on the Tim Ferris Show

I refreshed my Instacast feed and was delighted to see that Jerrod Carmichael was a guest on The Tim Ferriss Show. When reading Judd Apatow’s Sick in the Head, I was hoping Carmichael would be in it. I also should have checked the table of contents instead of thinking he might just appear a few hundred pages in.

Ferriss is a fan of comedy. He’s had a few comedians as guests and has mentioned that he enjoys seeing earlier sets to see how comedians work on an unfinished product. After reading Tools of Titans and Sick in the Head one after the other, I wrote a couple posts connecting the two. Jerry Seinfeld does something similar to star-gazing and Michael Che and Jocko Willink keep positive perspectives even if their situations are much different.

Successful comedians have a great toolbox. Comedy writers have great efficiency with words—they craft sentences in the right way to get people to laugh. Stand-up comics place little bets in every performance and become some of the best public speakers.

Still, even the greats bomb. Carmichael says he bombed the very first time he was on stage. How’d he deal with it? He says he lied to himself and said it wouldn’t happen again. Don’t dwell. He shares a lot of other wisdom in the podcast.

Don’t be a bad comedian with an excellent website
Or: don’t be Kwame Brown trying to palm two basketballs. (Michael Jordan was unimpressed.) Rookies probably don’t need to worry about poster poses. Startup founders probably shouldn’t be telling the designer “Two pixels to the left” if they can instead be talking to customers. I should probably be drawing instead of configuring digital brushes.

Carmichael says to focus on the content and to focus on exactly what you’re putting out.

People focus on the wrong things. There are a lot of comedians who aren’t funny at all or who don’t have stage presence. But have excellent websites. You know, they have excellent websites. And the shiniest business cards and the headshots are impeccable. And… who gives a fuck? You know what I mean?

It’s about the work. He says that he’s always had that mindset, even when selling shoes at Footaction. He approached it thinking okay this is my job, let me see what it’s like to try and be the best at this.

Don’t waste time on decisions that don’t matter
Fewer decisions means you can focus more energy on the important decisions. Personal trainers take the decision-making out of workouts (and also why you should be picky). Morning rituals help remove decisions also (Carmichael has eggs and blueberries). He also used to wear a uniform.

I was wearing the same… I bought a lot of the same… white sweatshirt, gray pants… Timberlands. Everyday. Every day. It worked in any place that I went. That’s what I liked. It worked everywhere. I’ll go to your wedding in this thing.

Wearing the same thing is another step toward reducing your decisions. Lately it’s been popularized by Barack Obama and Steve Jobs. In the past it was popularized by those kids in school who didn’t care what they wore. He says he doesn’t currently wear a uniform—his show requires wardrobe selections so he thinks about clothes and clothes can be fun.

I’m slowly getting into a uniform myself. A couple weeks ago I got a Uniqlo oversized shirt and a pair of their khaki joggers. A couple days later I got another set. I’m thinking of picking up two more sets to get a good rotation going. Soon I’ll just have Doug’s closet.

Don’t start your day with bullshit
Ferriss mentions that Carmichael in person isn’t as dark as he is in his stand-up. Here’s some proof: he starts most of his days in the least dark way imaginable: he calls his mom.

“I don’t want to start my day with bullshit. I don’t like noise. You know? I don’t like too much noise. My mom has a great spirit. One of the purest people that I know. She doesn’t over complicate anything.

I’ll talk to her for a few minutes and then I’ll do other calls. But you want to start it in a peaceful place, and then yell about marketing for an hour.

Maybe you don’t have someone to start every day like that. (He also calls his sister if his mom isn’t available.) The point is centering yourself in some way.

Don’t listen to anybody
Ferriss asks him about bad advice that’s given out frequently. Carmichael says to watch out when advice begins with “You gotta…”

It’s usually people who aren’t where they want to be. The person who just readily hands out advice is usually not where they want to be. You know, busy people aren’t just around in the back telling you what you gotta do next.

You gotta listen to this podcast!

The second diet

Meta description for when I add this feature to my site—Podcast note: Shannon Briggs on the Joe Rogan podcast

Shannon Briggs was on the Joe Rogan podcast, and they discuss two diets in part of the episode. Briggs is a boxer and Rogan trains in MMA, so it’s very clear to them that what you put in your body is fuel. Briggs talks spending $100 to $200 each day at Whole Foods to feed himself and his family.

On the other end, they discuss the importance of monitoring what goes into your mind. If it’s all bad news, violence, and negativity then there can’t be good effects from that.

Mental diet is important—making good choices about what you read, what you listen to, and what you watch.

This blog acts as a bit of the best things from my mental diet. Hopefully I’m sharing meals that taste good and are good for you. Of course, it’s a highlight reel. I read and listen to a lot of stuff that isn’t as good.

A lot of it isn’t varied enough. I started stepping out of the echo chamber of tech startup, design think piece, growth hacker, productivity type of things.

Books take up a lot of the time when I’m reading. I read a book a week this year. Some were great but I was alarmed by how many weren’t memorable at all.

Podcasts take up a lot of my listening time. I’m still in that echo chamber most of the time, but Joe Rogan’s guests vary a lot in their backgrounds. What’s shared is that they’re interesting.

Shorter things, including articles and videos, come through social media and social news sites. It’d be great to somehow compare time spent reading articles and time spent reading books and the value I get out of each. I can’t make a quick guess of which ones lead to me actually changing in positive ways.

Maybe it’s more important to think holistically. As long as I keep a steady stream of good things coming in over the long haul, I’ll be in good shape. Next year, I want to be deliberate about what goes into my mental diet. I’ll be sure to share the good stuff.