Sunday Journal Issue 04

Monday — July 25: Set up posts for the week. Created docs with Jekyll headers. This is a step beyond the spreadsheet and will help me focus. It’s taking the first step for every post this week.


Sunday — July 31: Okay creating all the docs didn’t work as well as I thought. It ended up creating the situation before where I would get posts 90% of the way and not finish it. I think I end up wanting to jump to the next post because it’s ready to jump into.

It sounds stupid but creating the Jekyll headers makes for good start and end points. It’s more fun to start posts than to refine and finish them. If I’ve set up seven files ready to just blab into, it’s tempting to go ahead and do that before finishing things I’ve started.

I also just had a lot of very fun birthday events. Which I have no qualms about prioritizing over this writing project. In lieu, of actual posts1, here are some pictures from different celebrations. First, a birthday dinner at Per Se:

I’ll write a separate post about Per Se (spoiler: I loved it). It was a treat2 from my girlfriend. Our birthdays are a week apart so we had a joint celebration at Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Brooklyn:

It’s such a cool space. We played one pretty serious game of shuffleboard as people were trickling in. It’s a great game if you’ve got competitive friends. Then the friends came in, drink bracelets came on, and any serious competition goes out the door. Along with any notion of seriousness at all. Great time.

And not a celebration at all but I walked by this Suicide Squad takeover:

So well done.

The celebrations continue so this week might not be much better for sticking to the writing schedule. I feel good about making it to 100 posts in 100 days — it’ll just take a little bit of catching up after these next few days.

  1. If you’re going through the archive, there are posts dated this week but they were posted a few days after.

  2. ‘Treat’ being a severe understatement.

Friday Links Issue 07: Routines

The key isn’t the routines but having a routine at all. My theme this week seems to be looking at more routines. Mostly triggered by reading this post on time management at Khan Academy. From David Hu’s response1:

I start by journalling 1 page on: why, what, and how. I come up with 1 “wildly important goal” that I schedule my day around.

I’m pretty sure I met David in 2012. We happened to be eating next to each other at Work at a Startup. I remember realizing after the fact that I had read a few posts he wrote. The one that was probably fresh in memory was about his experiment in daily idea generation.

That reminds me of James Altucher’s concept of becoming an idea machine.

Take a waiter’s pad. Go to a local cafe. Maybe read an inspirational book for ten to twenty minutes. Then start writing down ideas. What ideas? Hold on a second. The key here is, write ten ideas.

I’ve tried this on and off. I always enjoy the results and will think about making it more of a point to do this regularly. The ten ideas can be about anything. And if I’m out of list ideas then I can write out a list of ten ideas for future lists. There’s always something.

David also encourages blogging, particularly for interns. He shares his mentor’s thoughts on the benefits of blogging:

raises the market value of interns

great practice for shipping work into the real world – blogs are mini products, and getting familiar with moving past the “it’s not ready to ship” inertia is invaluable”

possible that a community will spring up around the post – might be invited to speak at a conference as a result

Blogging has been good for me. It’s still early to see where this current blogging project will go, but in the past it’s definitely been helpful professionally. Lately I’ve been writing about books I read, so this last link is Paul Edwards’s guide on reading: How to Read a Book (PDF).

Edwards explains his approach to reading non-fiction while making sure to understand and retain the information.

Instead, when you’re reading for information, you should ALWAYS jump ahead, skip around, and use every available strategy to discover, then to understand, and finally to remember what the writer has to say. This is how you’ll get the most out of a book in the smallest amount of time.

I had a sneaking suspicion that reading one page at a time on my phone randomly throughout the day isn’t optimal. I’m going to try reading a book with these tips in mind. I’ll probably write some book notes and something tells me they’ll end up on this blog in some form.

  1. I met David in 2012. We happened to be eating next to each other and we shook hands at Work at a Startup. I remember realizing after the fact that I had read a few posts he wrote.

Brain vomit

I’ve been trying to pick out directives when reading books. If I’m going to continue writing about podcasts, I’ll try writing about a directive that I got from an episode.

I enjoy Tim Ferriss’s podcast because he’s curious about routines and rituals. Especially when it comes to writing and what people do first thing in the morning. Mike Birbiglia was a guest recently and he talked about his writing routine. He says it’s helped him just get a draft out quickly:

[…] I call a “throw up pass” . I would go to coffee shops in the morning. My minimum is 3 hours. I stick myself in a coffee shop with no internet. No email, no anything. If it’s going well, 5 hours. If it’s not going well, I stop at 3 hours.

Tim says he tossed a few drafts of the Four Hour Work-Week and then he re-wrote the first chapter in an email compose window1. That worked.

Mike usually writes around 7am in a coffee shop (drink of choice: cappuccino). He writes for three hours minimum and up to five hours if it’s going well.

I spent nine hours in a coffee shop once. I was wondering if I was bugging the employees but then the afternoon shift started. Then I was wondering if I was bugging a new set of employees by staying there for so long.

I try following these guidelines if going to a place to write and not quite for the coffee: one drink every 2 hours and a $2 tip. I read some form of that (I’m guessing on a Bill Simmons podcast years ago) but it’s stuck with me that way.

Mike says he’ll sometimes write longhand. I was trying this earlier in my 100 posts project and I want to get back to it, because the end results seemed better than most other posts. Probably because I was forced to re-type things to go through a real revision.

Quick first drafts aren’t a new concept or anything, but Mike’s description of it resonated with me. The first draft is not a precious thing—the important part is getting it out at all.

  1. I remember seeing a tweet from a designer that said they wrote drafts in Gmail. Then they’d take it to Docs. I searched and searched and couldn’t find it.

Obvious to you, amazing to others

I was looking into a Derek Sivers quote1: “What’s obvious to you is amazing to others.” I found this video from a set of videos he made as previews for Anything You Want.

Obvious to you. Amazing to others. — Derek Sivers (Video)

I’d love to make 1-2 minute videos like this. Digestible. It’d give me a project to apply different things I want to learn.

In Apprenticeship Patterns, one of the patterns involves having a personal project. You can apply programming concepts on something you’re personally invested in. It’s in application that you really learn things.

Here are some of the different things I’ve wanted to learn that I could practice by creating short videos like this.

  • I’ve wanted to learn illustration and animation. I can’t currently draw and animate, so I can start with Keynote presentations and animations.
  • I’ve wanted to learn to tell better stories. Short videos would need nice, tight narratives to be interesting.
  • I’ve wanted to learn to improve as a writer. The videos would need to start with writing. Whether it’s dialogue or descriptions of what will show up. It starts with words.

Someday it’d be nice for any of those things to be obvious to me.

And some things that are obvious to me that might be amazing to others:

  • My workflow going from Google Docs to Jekyll for blog posts
  • The logistics of moving to New York — this process still isn’t obvious to me but I at least have the clarity provided by hindsight
  • Making GIFs — some people have absolutely no idea how

I’ll keep thinking about this because god I hope that isn’t the full list.

  1. I heard this quote on Goins’s podcast in episode 111: Unlikely Sources of Inspiration. He talks about the echo chamber we can be in.

Stray book notes

I keep hearing about this approach to writing, though it’s slightly different from person to person:

  • Tweet: Ideas they’re thinking about writing about

  • Blog posts: The most popular tweets become blog posts

  • Book chapters: The most popular blog posts become book chapters

I’m not currently active on Twitter and I don’t have any plans to write a book. All I’ve got is these blog posts, baby!

I have a bunch of Kindle highlights. Some are from books where I plan to write full book notes posts. Others, not so much. And some are somewhere in between. I’m going to try writing short notes on a few different books.

It’s sort of like starting with other people’s tweets. If I finish writing about that excerpt and still feel like there’s more to say, then I might bump that book up my queue of full book notes to write.

  • Highlight: Someone else’s good idea that they already wrote about that I’m thinking about writing about

  • Blog post: The highlights I enjoy writing about most become full blog posts.

  • Book chapter: lol

Let’s see how this goes.

Here’s one from Creativity Inc.:

As Joe Ranft said at the time, “Better to have train wrecks with miniature trains than with real ones.

Pixar’s miniature trains are a little different. This wreck, in particular, was a two million dollar short film to put a children’s book author through a bit of a try out. It might not always be called prototyping, but the same underlying principle is everywhere: creating a safe environment to take risks and fail. You can learn without using up as many resources as a full project.

That gets to the idea at the start of this post. A tweet lets you gauge an idea. If it turns out to be an awful idea, you can always just tweet through it.

A blog post doesn’t require the investment of a book chapter. Even if you’re revising over and over (or not1) and using a copyeditor, it still won’t take up the resources a book chapter would take to write. And it won’t mess up the larger narrative of a book.

Here are some thoughts on blogging from Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) in How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big:

The main reason I blog is because it energizes me. I could rationalize my blogging by telling you it increases traffic on by 10 percent or that it keeps my mind sharp or that I think the world is a better place when there are more ideas in it. But the main truth is that blogging charges me up. It gets me going. I don’t need another reason.

Posting to this blog is slowly becoming something I look forward to each day. I’ve written consistently in the past and looked forward to it—but it was mostly private. Knowing I’ll share things I’m writing forces me to be a little more thoughtful as far as structure goes. And writing something that might be helpful, interesting (on a good day), or both (when the stars align) to others.

I’m energized when I start writing and a little drained by the time I finish a post for the day. It’s never quite where I want it to be, but I know it’s time to move on (or it’s already the next day entirely). Looking at the collective whole of the past couple months, written a little bit at a time, and knowing there might be a tiny bit of good in there—that’s what charges me up.


What would this look like if it were easy?

I was listening to the Tim Ferriss podcast today, in an episode where he discusses caging his monkey mind along with many other things. (He’s being interviewed rather than interviewing someone else.)

  • He talked about the success of the podcast and mentions it as part of his long term vision. Speaking with and learning from top performers probably doesn’t get old.

  • He says at a certain point it’s sort of ridiculous for him to think that he needs to interview more people. There’s certainly enough information in the first 150 interviews to learn from and apply.

  • Hypothetically, he could crowdsource questions then send the best questions and a microphone off to the person he’s interviewing. Then they’d record and send it back. He’s actually pretty much done this and some of the results have been very good.

  • He discussed whether he would create a book or something similar that would compress the knowledge shared through his podcasts.

  • This made me think about the books I’m reading. A lot of the books have the same information and the studies cited start showing up across multiple books. It’s similar to noticing an author is doing the rounds on different podcasts.

As for a single takeaway from the episode, he says he constantly asks himself this question:

What would this look like if it were easy?

That’s how he got to the crowdsourced podcast idea. Most of his interviews aren’t on that extreme end, but they’re still very streamlined. He said a lot of people get to two episodes and quit. He knew if he tried to create a slick, heavily produced podcast, he’d probably stop at two episodes also. A podcast where it’s two people talking pretty much just needs to be mono and loud enough.

This episode sounds like audio pulled off a video recording and that had minimal effect on how informative it was.

Each podcast has a structure. He allows the conversation to flow but he asks similar questions. He’s interested in rituals. He’s curious about what people do first thing in the morning. If they write, what their process is. If they’re particular about nutrition or fitness, he digs for the underlying principles.

He mentioned something I heard in Grit about routines1: there’s some overlap between routines but there isn’t one single best routine for everyone. The key is having a routine at all.

(And probably meditation.)

What would this blog look like if it were easy? For starters, the writing would be better and it would write itself.

Until then, I’ll keep chipping away at the hard things.

  1. In Grit, Angela Duckworth talks about the book Daily Rituals. The audiobook version of which was produced by… Tim Ferriss.

Sunday Journal Issue 03

In last week’s Sunday journal, I wrote longer on Sunday because I didn’t write every day. This week, I wrote most days and remembered to write thoughts down here on some of those days.

I think it’d be good to track my reading somewhere, and I might actually start doing that in the Friday link posts. But here’s an update on my current reading.

  • Currently reading: The Umbrella Man and Other Stories, Originals, Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV

  • Finished last week: The Last Girlfriend on Earth, Grit (audiobook), You are a Writer (audiobook), Do you Talk Funny? (audiobook)

  • In limbo (paused reading but still plan to finish): The 4-Hour Chef, Snow Crash, Star Wars: Dark Force Rising

I’m trying to follow the advice of reading non-fiction in the morning and fiction before bed. Since I’ve been writing on the bus in the morning lately, I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I had been earlier this year.

Tuesday — July 19: Planned to write a second post about Grit. I just didn’t finish it.

Wednesday — July 20: Finally added pictures to one of the last Japan trip posts sitting in a to-do state: going to the New Japan Pro Wrestling show.

Thursday — July 21: Wrote a quick post about Muji notebooks. It’s a shorter post with a few images. It was a rare post that I finished pretty much in one sitting. Didn’t jump in and out of the post. Didn’t mark TKs to finish adding images at a later time. There isn’t much text at all. This is where I wish I had some way currently to quantify whether a post is good or bad.

I mostly just said that I like the notebook but you can’t buy them in America. I think it’ll be valuable for reference in future posts where I’ll share sketches from these notebooks. Instead of explaining what kind of notebook I used each time, I can just link to that post.

Friday — July 22: I’m realizing I’ve been doing most of my writing at home or on the bus this week. It’s made me really look forward to the bus commute. I almost always have a seat. If I remember to set things up when on my laptop, then writing on my phone is kind of pleasant.

If I don’t have some kind of outline ready, then I use the time to type out excerpts from podcasts and audiobooks.

The bus is good because there’s just about nothing else to do. Commute time (25-35 minutes) is just the right amount for focusing.

Saturday — July 23:

I wrote three separate posts for Grit:

With separate posts, I could focus on one concept from the book and try to hone it down to a page. Collectively, I think this is better than a single post with say, five concepts. Both for reading and writing.

With multiple posts, I can go a little deeper on each topic and use multiple excerpts about the same concept. I always feel rushed trying to write a book notes post with multiple excerpts if I’m trying to finish it in an hour or two.

Sunday — July 24:

Two weeks ago, I was trying to post 2-3 times each day to make up for missed days. I wanted to keep up the 2-post pace to completely catch up on missed posts. Instead, I burned out a little and I missed a few days of writing last week.

This week, I focused on one post each day and it’s been pleasant. I look forward to writing in the morning. My system is solid enough that I don’t feel the urge to tinker. It was a major distraction early on. I can keep this pace.

To hit 100 posts by August 23 (marking 100 days), I’ll need to do 11 days with 2 posts. And I’ve got 31 days left. So that’s about every third day. I’ll schedule 2-post days on days when I know I’ll have the time for it instead of trying to force them into already-busy days.

Four weeks left. Not quite the final leg but if this were a mile run I’d be starting the final lap. Here we go.

Anything You Want

Derek Sivers’s book notes have been priceless for me. I used his recommendations for guidance a lot in the past few years. Learning how he processes books he reads led me to highlight a lot more. I’ve always wanted to publish notes for all (or most of) the books I read to make the material more meaningful for myself. They do take time (and that’s sort of the point), but I’m starting to work through my backlog of highlights.

In Anything You Want, Derek tells different stories from building CD Baby and explains what he learned. Here are a few of my favorite excerpts from Derek’s book.

You can’t pretend there’s only one way to do it. Your first idea is just one of many options.

This is important in my work as a designer, and something I need to improve on. A lot of times it’s easy to just think the first idea is the best idea without taking more time to explore. In doing Crazy 8s, something always comes out of that 6th, 7th, or 8th sketch. It might not be used for the problem at hand. It might just be a germ of an idea. But it’s valuable. This goes beyond sketching and design—it’s important to set aside time to consider other ideas for any problem.

Never forget why you’re really doing what you’re doing. Are you helping people? Are they happy? Are you happy? Are you profitable? Isn’t that enough?

This isn’t a business. Why am I really trying to write? I want to improve. Am I helping people? Not yet, but I think there will eventually be good lessons worth sharing here. Am I profitable? Well, I’m making zero from this right now but maybe the skills will translate to something that can generate passive income.

When you want to learn how to do something yourself, most people won’t understand.

I’ve learned so much trying to do things myself. I heard something recently that reminded me there’s also a balance. It can be easy to tell people “Oh but I like doing these things.” Sometimes there’s fun stuff to learn but there’s other things you can spend time on that would be even more fun to learn.

You’ll notice that as my company got bigger, my stories about it were less happy. That was my lesson learned. I’m happier with five employees than with eighty-five, and happiest working alone.

I’ve been around startups in their earliest stages. I’ve seen that stress. I’ve seen struggles founders go through. WIth a few years of separation, I’ve seen some become very successful and some that have failed.

The title suggests having anything you want. I really like the overall lessons: running a gigantic company might not actually be what you want. It’s not for me1.

  1. Fully acknowledging that it’s not like that’s exactly an option for me right at this moment. I can see how some people would actually want it and don’t just want the financial freedom attached to it. They want to be in charge of something big with a lot of moving parts. If that’s the case, this probably isn’t the book for you.

Friday Links Issue 06: These will be doorstops

I went to a workshop about effective presentations earlier this week. We went over storytelling and its power to make things memorable. This reminded me of something Steve Jobs said to John Lasseter:

“I’ll never forget,” Lasseter says, “Steve Jobs was kind of waxing poetically about things and he said, ‘You know, at Apple when we make a computer, what’s the lifespan of it? Maybe three years. In five years it’s a doorstop. Technology moves so fast. If you do your job right with Toy Story, this thing could last forever.’”

I first read this quote in Creativity Inc., which I want to write some book notes on. I want to improve as a storyteller, whether it’s speaking or writing.

In How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big1, Scott Adams has a chapter going through certain skills that can be added to your skillset as multipliers. One of them is public speaking and another is business writing. Some of the tips from the book can be found in his blog post, ‘The Day You Became a Better Writer’:

Business writing is about clarity and persuasion. The main technique is keeping things simple. Simple writing is persuasive. A good argument in five sentences will sway more people than a brilliant argument in a hundred sentences. Don’t fight it.

Presentations have a lot in common with effective writing. Good stories, simply told.

Alex Hogue2 writes about online privacy—I’m not sure if that’s the best way to describe it. But Alex takes technical topics and writes entertaining pieces on them. Alex recently wrote about stalking your Facebook friends on Tinder.

Cut to me in my room. I’m about to try and “do hacking”. Around me are two computer monitors, two laptops, and no friends.

Alex Hogue writes about doing hacking. Plenty of people write about the same topics but Alex’s have been the most entertaining, by far. Here’s an earlier post on graphing when your Facebook friends are awake.

I wrote about Angela Duckworth’s Grit a few times this week. Duckworth is a MacArthur grant recipient and she talks about Ta-Nehisi Coates, another grant recipient, and his description of writing:

The challenge of writing is to see your horribleness, on page, to see your terribleness, and then to go to bed, and wake up the next day, and take that horribleness and that terribleness and refine it, and make it not so terrible and not so horrible, and then go to bed again, and come the next day, and refine it a little bit more, and make it not so bad, and then go to bed the next day and do it again, then make it maybe average.

You know, if anybody even reads what I’m doing, that’s a great day.

I’m working on getting the horribleness and terribleness on page regularly. Then I’ll write entertaining things, even for technical topics. I’ll put together good, five-sentence arguments with a chance of being read. After all that, maybe I’ll write something that has a chance of lasting forever.

  1. Which I’ll also write notes on.

  2. Creator of

Warren Buffet’s goals

In Grit, Angela Duckworth says grit has two components: passion and perseverance. Gritty people are passionate about things that take years to achieve. That helps them through the sub-goals, some of which can be a grind.

Having a top-level goal with no low and mid-level goals can lead to frustration. It’s believing in overnight success.

Having low-level and mid-level goals with no top-level goal leads to early passion for a project and quick disinterest. The next shiny new thing will pull you away. It’s totally fine for some things, like jumping from hobby to hobby recreationally. Professionally, though, it can be detrimental because it’s hard to grow career capital if you’re jumping from thing to thing.

Angela describes a top-level goal setting technique attributed to Warren Buffet (though it seems similar to Seinfeld getting credit for marking X’s on a calendar).

  • Write the 25 things you want to achieve in your career

  • Circle the 5 most important

  • You’ve now identified your 20 biggest career distractions

It’s a lesson in focus. Angela adds a few extra steps:

  • From the 25, identify the items that lead to a common goal

  • You’ve now identified your top-level goals

I really like these extra steps. It reminds me of blobs combining to form bigger blobs that then absorb smaller blobs until you see your top-level goals to focus on.

Where does writing daily fit in? Some posts come easier than others or are more fun to write. Collectively I think it’s helping me become a better writer and helping me focus. Being a better writer helps with organizing thoughts and telling better stories.

What top-level goal does this lead to? I’ll think about it, because right now I’m demonstrating early passion that I hope isn’t followed by lead to quick disinterest.

Muji paper magazine notebook mini

I used to buy Muji storyboard notebooks in New York—I mentioned them in this design sprint post from 2014. I mentioned that they’re “somehow only $2” and I guess it actually as too good to be true because they discontinued them in US stores. Last year I emailed to hopefully get the online equivalent of “oh yeah we have some in the back”:

We are truly sorry, but MUJI USA does not carry Recycled Paper Magazine Notebook at this moment. Please accept our apologies for any disappointment. We would update new items at our best. Please check our online website often. Thank you for your understanding.

No luck. On the Japan trip, we were walking through Muji near Tokyo Station and I was excited to see these storyboard notebooks—they’re somehow only 100 yen. They’re perfect for Crazy 8s (PDF).

I picked up four. I’ll share some sketches in the future. First I have to do the sketches. I want to figure out what the index page for this blog should look like. I’d like it to live on beyond 100 posts so some kind of categorization will be good.


One Grit chapter covers raising gritty children. Angela’s household has a “Hard thing” rule:

  1. Everyone, including mom and dad, has to do a hard thing. A hard thing is something that requires daily deliberate practice.

  2. You can quit. But you can’t quit until the season is over, the tuition payment is up, or some other natural stopping point has arrived. You can’t quit on a bad day.

  3. You get to pick your hard thing. Nobody picks it for you.

It reminds me of something I heard on a podcast1. The example was editing audio. There are people trying to build platforms and they want to be audio engineers and editors for themselves. It takes a lot of time. Their argument is that they like doing it. Fair point, but it’s also taking up time that could be spent on something more important for their business or on something they enjoy more that’s completely recreational.

There’s a balance, of course. Angela Duckworth gives two examples of things she’s quit: piano and French. Piano didn’t come easy to her and she wasn’t very interested in it. Easy to drop. Dropping French was more interesting, because she found it interesting and she was picking it up quickly. Why stop? Because it was still taking up time.

Less time spent on piano and French freed up time for pursuits I found more gratifying. Finishing up whatever you begin without exception is a good way to miss opportunities to start different, possibly better things.

Applying this to my 100 Days, 100 Posts project, I don’t feel like quitting right now. I’m enjoying it so far. Some days I’m not in the mood to write. It’s fine, I try writing anyway. But you can’t quit on a bad day.

The natural stopping point will be 100 days. Halfway through, it’s fulfilling and I don’t see that changing in the second half.

After 100 days, I definitely want to keep making things every day. I’ll continue writing in some form. Publishing daily might not be quite as important. Trying to write, re-write, and edit in an hour or two each day means I’ll either 1.) write very short things or 2.) skip some steps. Taking the blocks of time I can squeeze into 2 or 3 days should allow me to go through the revision process. That’s where I’ll be able to improve.

Right now, there are times where I don’t edit. Editing and rewriting is the hard part of writing. That’s where deliberate practice comes in. Writing freely and blasting through a first draft is where you can enter flow. If I skip editing then I don’t think I’m getting better at writing.

I’m getting better at posting daily, which is a useful skill to have. It means I’m able to think about something to write about, write about it, then go through the logistics of adding links and images, then sharing it.

All of those things are useful but I want to edit and think more about the structure and paragraphs and sentences and words. (And to stop writing about writing.)

Right now isn’t the natural stopping point, so I’m going to keep posting daily.

  1. I need to deliberately practice remembering my sources.

Very Fresh Noodles and other pictures from the week

Here are four photos from this week.

First, a look at my lunch yesterday. Very Fresh Noodles in Chelsea Market. I originally planned to only post this picture, but I didn’t think I’d have enough to write about to go with it. If you like Xi’an Famous Foods, it’s about as good for a few bucks more. Which is about what to expect from most things in Chelsea Market.

This is from last weekend. Korean BBQ with a few friends on one of their terraces. Grilling is one of the things I miss most about living in California and Washington. The only other non-commercial grills I’ve been around in New York: (2013) shared grill at Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn for 4th of July, (2013) grill the size of a large dinner plate at… somewhere in Brooklyn.

Here’s a typical basket for me at Trader Joe’s. I used to go on a weekly run but now it’s about once a month. I promise I’m not one of the heathens that puts their basket on the ground and kicks it forward the entire length of the line—meaning the entire perimeter of the store when it’s busy. It’d be odd to kick a 10-lb sled around without the store.

A day or two before Manhattanhenge and not the right time or place for it.

Hard work beats talent

I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of Grit over the past week. I finished it once and have started listening a second time through. I haven’t written book notes for an audiobook before. I’ll try to write 2 or 3 posts based on Grit. Here’s the first.

In Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth writes about the importance of grit in life. She explains why grit is something worth striving for and suggests how to build grit.

One concept discussed, of course, is deliberate practice. She shares this quote from a basketball player, “I probably spend 70 percent of my time by myself, working on my game, just trying to fine tune every single piece of my game.”

There’s a section about deliberate practice and flow. Some think the two concepts are at odds with each other. Her take is that deliberate practice is for improving skills. Flow is for performance.

I remember reading about the same basketball player a few years back. Something I remember sticking out was that he avoided pickup games when he was younger. For a lot of people, pickup games are all they do, so it’s both practice and performance. And probably bad forms of either one.

I looked around and found some of the things his coach made him do instead of playing pickup games. It sounds an awful lot like deliberate practice:

He made the boy write basketball essays, diagram the mechanics to jump shots and told him to memorize a quote that has shaped his life: Hard work beats talent when talent fails to work hard.

That player, of course, is recent nWo member Kevin Durant. That excerpt is from the Seattle Times, a few months before the Sonics (RIP) drafted him. Some more from the same article:

Brown forbade Durant from playing pickup games or scrimmaging. He stressed conditioning and an array of shooting, dribbling, passing and defensive drills. Every day was boot camp. Brown taught Durant three basic moves — a pull-up jump shot, a two-dribble jumper and a baseline drive — that formed the foundation of Durant’s repertoire.

On the other side of that memorized quote: hard work meets talent and now you have Kevin Durant.

As far as how this applies to writing, I’m not sure what the performance would be for a writer. You’re rarely watched during the writing process. Maybe it’s just that you aren’t watched during your performance, because you can certainly enter a flow state while writing. It’s probably what Malcolm Gladwell means when he describes the actual writing as blissful.

The thinking and organizing and editing is the hard part. That’s the deliberate practice.

Sunday Journal Issue 02

In last week’s Sunday journal, I wrote a little bit each day about that day’s writing. This week, I didn’t write every day and forgot to start the journal for the week at all.

I made a few CSS changes, but I’m holding off on any major design changes until around post #75. I’d like to build a categorized index.

Saturday — July 16: I finished some posts and uploaded them. I back-posted to fill in some missing days. That might be cheating in some way, but nobody’s keeping track and I never really laid out solid rules for myself.

Here: My goal is to finish 100 posts in 100 days. Most post dates are accurate, some are approximate, and some are completely off but I want to fill those days in because it helps me keep track of things.

These sandwiches were very good.

I listened to Simon Rich on James Altucher’s podcast. James summarizes the appearance in one of his posts:

Simon Rich, one of the funniest writers I have ever read, the youngest writer of SNL ever, and now working on two movies and a sitcom, said to me, “if you don’t wake up and want to write first thing, you probably shouldn’t be writing.”

In the course of our discussion he must’ve referred to 50 different books and comedians and movies, etc.

In the podcast episode, Simon says his favorite writer is Roald Dahl, for both his children’s books and his short stories. I didn’t know Roald Dahl wrote short stories. I bought one of the Dahl collections—The Umbrella Man and Other Stories. I also picked up Simon Rich’s The Last Girlfriend on Earth: And Other Love Stories.

Sunday — July 17: This morning I read one story from each of the books. In the podcast, James says he rarely laughs out loud when reading but it happened often when reading Simon’s stories. He’s right, I laughed a lot while reading Unprotected.

This is story of my life inside wallet.

Go read the entire thing on The New Yorker. I’d love to write something that made people laugh as much as I laughed reading it. Which I understand is years and thousands and thousands of words away. First, I’ll continue writing anything at all.

From the Dahl collection, I read The Great Automatic Grammatizator. It’s about a machine that writes stories.

“There are many other little refinements too, Mr. Bohlen. You’ll see them all when you study the plans carefully. For example, there’s a trick that nearly every writer uses, of inserting at least one long, obscure word into each story. This makes the reader think that the man is very wise and clever. So I have the machine do the same thing. There’ll be a whole stack of long words stored away just for this purpose.”

I’ll use this trick illusion whenever I want to seem sagacious and exterous.

These days, you can learn more about machines that write stories on, you know, websites for companies that make machines that write stories.

Planning next week

It’s still early in the day, so I’m going to go on with my day. Tonight, I’ll try to finish a couple of posts from the Japan trip.

I’ll also plan the coming week’s writing out and I’ll try outlining what I can. And preparing posts in Google Docs so I can go in and write. I’m still struggling with starting and finishing a single post without jumping around to other posts, looking things up, or whatever else. It’s not making me a better writer, but it’s probably making me better at posting consistently.

Sort of about affirmations

“Projects tends to rot if you leave it alone for a few years, and it takes effort for someone to deal with it again.” — John Carmack in the release notes for the Doom source code

I found the source for an app I made in 2014. It uses Grunt as its build system and I actually only had to kick the tires around for half an hour to get it running locally. The database still exists, so a lot of my thoughts for about 4 months are still in there.

I’d like to put together a better demo clip. Right now I’m pumped to see that this app still even works so enjoy this GIF where nothing is legible.

I can’t remember how long this took. Here are some stray thoughts explaining what it does:

  • You log in with your Twitter account.
  • A timer on the right has two bars. One shows what I recall being one minute intervals. The bottom one keeps track of I’m guessing 25 minutes.
  • The left side has an ideas list. You would fill that with a few words describing a writing prompt.
  • So you’d open this app up, choose one of your ideas, then start writing.

As far as tech goes, I made it to learn Angular. It also uses Firebase for storage and authentication.

I wanted to build a tool for writing daily. The prompts list has a default template that I’d usually use to kick off daily writing. It has some questions like “What made you laugh1 recently?” There was a misc. section that I would write affirmations in. “I will work for Google.” — Me, like 50 times.

At the time, I shared this with maybe 5 people, tops. Two years later, I’m at Google as a designer on Firebase.

So, yes, I think affirmations work and I don’t worry too much about if it’s science, psychology, faith, or anything else.

  1. These are by far the most entertaining things to read in my backup.

Friday Links Issue 05

It’s been a bit of an off week. After posting ten things last week, life happened. Meaning summer in New York. I met up with friends. Stayed out later than usual. Slept in. I didn’t make time to write. I returned to the gym after freezing my membership for three months.

Back on the wagon.

Kurt Vonnegut Explains Drama — Derek Sivers

Derek Sivers posted this in 2009. Kurt Vonnegut describes life like a line graph. Movies and books are roller coasters while real life is a pretty straight line.

That’s why people invent fights. That’s why we’re drawn to sports. That’s why we act like everything that happens to us is such a big deal.
We’re trying to make our life into a fairy tale.

Social media is our highlight reel. It gives us a chance to edit our lives for others to view.

“Oh did you see so and so’s picture on Instagram? Always traveling. Do they even work?” A lot of the time they’re traveling because they work so much and need to get away to keep from burning out1. Social media gives us the layers and brushes to hide and show what we want.

Eric Ripert appeared on The Watch podcast

Andy Greenwald had Eric Ripert on his show to talk about 32 Yolks, Eric’s memoir. In building software products, it’s important to keep the user in mind2. The same goes for chefs.

People in love, you can see… even in the street you can see who they are. People in business, you know they are focused on the discussion and so on. It’s our job to notice that. It’s not that difficult but you have to pay attention.

They discuss art and craftsmanship. Chefs create art. Dali needed to learn the craft and how to re-create a clock. It’s learned through repetition. The art is in having the imagination to melt the clock. Ripert doesn’t think anything’s wrong with excelling at cooking as a craft. But the steps beyond that are what interest him.

He’s interested in creating beautiful and imaginative dishes. Then the craftsmanship comes back in re-creating the appearance and taste of pieces consistently. First you make an omelet. Then you mix ingredients together until three stars come out.

Seth Godin on the Beautiful Writers podcast

When Tim Ferriss asked about Seth’s writing ritual, he didn’t quite answer. This time, though, he shed some light on the nuts and bolts.

I don’t think you need to wait until you’re in the mood to write. But I do think having tools that give you a proustian boost that remind you of what it is to do your best work are critical. At least for me.

If I’m starting a new project I go to Muji. I get the big size spiral bound. I get just the right pencil or the pen. It’s only for that. No grocery lists are going in that thing.”

Happy to hear he likes Muji. I bought a stack of their storyboard notebooks in Japan because Muji discontinued them in America. They give me a creative boost. Seth’s answer reminded me of The Creative Habit. Twyla Tharp talks about starting projects:

I start every dance with a box. I write the project name on the box, and as the piece progresses I fill it up with every item that went into the making of the dance. This means notebooks, news clippings, CDs, videotapes of me working alone in my studio, videos of the dancers rehearsing, books and photographs and pieces of art that may have inspired me.

For Seth Godin, a lot of his projects require thinking and sharing thoughts through words. His box is a notebook.

For Twyla Tharp, her box is a box.

Looking at design sprints this way, the team has a giant box: the room. The group creates ideas and sketches. They stay on walls in the same room for a week. People leave the box for lunch and breaks. Everything happens in that giant box.

My programmers, a box is a new repo for bigger projects and a new branch for new subprojects.

I’ll continue exploring different boxes for writing. Right now it needs to hold a spreadsheet and some docs.

The Artisan Files: Jeffrey Way

One of these weeks, I’m going to experiment with creating screencasts. My favorite screencasts have been from and Laracasts.

Early on, egghead had a minimal site (HN thread) with a killer Angular demo using Webstorm. I bought Webstorm pretty much right after and still use it. I used Angular for side projects and today I happen to work on a large Angular app.

Laracasts is fairly new to me. Vue seemed to be popping up frequently and I wanted to try it out. I really enjoyed Jeffrey Way’s Vue tutorials.

My audience at Laracasts is a bit different: they’re working professionals (at some level or another), who want to stay up to date on the latest tooling, techniques, and patterns. I think of Laracasts as eight-minute abs: just short bursts of knowledge for you to fit in whenever you have the time.

I want to try creating my own resources providing short bursts of knowledge. I’ll follow some principles Tim Ferriss follows for his podcasts. He based his process on avoiding a pitfall other budding podcasters run into: after a few episodes, they’re overwhelmed with the effort required to edit. Early on, Tim decided to stick to minimal equipment, long episodes, and minimal editing.

I’ve made a couple short screencasts before. Rehearsing and choreographing takes a lot of time. I want to try recording my screen for half an hour, pulling clips out, and skipping audio. Instead I’ll write text to go with each video clip. I think it’ll be easier to follow along, but we’ll see.

  1. I also know a couple people that actually do mostly just travel and are very happy.

  2. Writing it out, this seems so completely common sense. The hard part is following through on the principle when other solutions would be more interesting to make.

Stray thoughts: 4K Monitor

This week hasn’t been the best as far as my writing goes. This will be the first edition of stray thoughts. I’ll write things that come to mind. There will be minimal editing. This will be the form my cop-out posts will take.

I got a 4K monitor (U28E590D on Amazon) during Prime Day.

  • My laptop can’t drive it at full resolution at 60Hz.

  • Well, it can.

  • Well, it sort of can. The monitor can do picture in picture. Then I plug an HDMI cable in and a DisplayPort cable into my laptop. The laptop thinks two monitors are attached. I thought it’d be okay but it just gets a little funky trying to display things in the center of the screen.

  • I had a mount for my previous monitor. It doesn’t raise high enough for it to make sense to mount.

  • I like Infinite Jest, please roll your eyes somewhere else.

  • The other books are Starting Strength and The Animator’s Survival Kit.

  • I won’t be writing book notes on any of these three books anytime soon.

  • If you look closely at the chart on the monitor you might see I’m getting upwards of 5 viewers.

  • For half a second, I considered whether it’d be worth it since it’s a TN panel. Then I remembered I run f.lux at nearly all times and colors don’t matter much.

  • I’m a heavy f.lux user. I can’t wait for a future Paperwhite to have some kind of amber light. I’ll jump on it.

  • I’m a light blue light blocker user, but I’d like to make it more of a habit to put them on at night.

  • Then I could sleep at a consistent time, and maybe get up and write things that aren’t bulleted lists of random thoughts.

  • I listened to Simon Rich on James Altucher’s podcast (2014). More on this later, I think, because he shares a lot of thoughts about writing.

  • Based on that podcast, I bought a Simon Rich book and a Roald Dahl collection of short stories. More on these later, also.

  • I will go ahead and post this. I’ll fix typos in the morning.

This isn’t quite a one-sentence post for the sake of posting, but it’s close. Thanks for bearing with me.


I planned to write about focus today. I knew that by looking at my writing schedule spreadsheet. But looking at the schedule reminded me that I needed to upload yesterday’s post to my server. Then I tried making a gulp task to handle deployment. Then thirty minutes went by. All before writing a word down about focus.

Now I’ll write about distractions. The key to focusing is identifying distractions and learning how to avoid them.

Location, location, location

Distractions come from having other options. People build cabins and go on retreats to cut out other options. When I’m bored at home it seems like there’s nothing to do. When I’m trying to write, there seems to be tons of things to do. I can clean. I can read. I can eat. I can cook because I want to eat.

So I don’t write much at home. This might be different if I could have other locations within my home. But I rent a shoebox in New York. My desk is on the wall at one end of the apartment. My bathroom is at the opposite end. From my desk, I could probably read the ingredients on the toothpaste tube if I squinted enough.

I write at coffee shops when I can. There’s not much else to do there. A lot of other people are there to work on things also. They want to be alone but with people. In, like, not the super depressing way.

I’ve been trying to write in parks. The people watching can be too good. I mean, just hanging out at a park relaxing is a thing. I’ve done that alone. It doesn’t work for me.

I’ve tried writing on buses and subways. This works surprisingly well. I actually focus on the writing. And on the subway I don’t have Internet access. Which, of course, is the ultimate distraction.

You vs. the internet

Ben Orenstein, a developer at thoughtbot, says conference speakers need to be more interesting than the Internet. If the internet is the final boss, asking people to put laptops away is like a cheat code. It works, but wouldn’t it be more satisfying to be the most interesting thing in the room? Otherwise, why bother being a speaker?

When writing, it’s just you and the internet.

Go offline: When using a computer to write, you have the entire internet at your disposal. You can turn the wifi off. You can even unplug the router. Or set it on a timer.

Stay offline: This starts to get into what writing really is. A lot of it is in the thinking. In Deep Work, Cal Newport suggests separating offline work time and online work time. If you’re in an offline time block and something comes up that requries the internet, write it down as a task for your next online work block.

I do something like this by adding comments in Google Docs. They act as a todo list when I go into finalizing a post—done during an online time block.

I want to try splitting an hour like this:

  • 15 minutes online: Set up some links, excerpts, and outline.

  • 30 minutes offline: Write and fill it in. TKs/comments for everything else.

  • 15 minutes online: Edit, finish up links, images, and upload the post.

My system to focus

First, I select an animal to sacrifice. Here are my preferences in order of effectiveness.

Know what I’m working on: A schedule helps. Before creating a schedule, prioritization helps even more. If you’re working on the most important thing, you won’t waste time thinking that you could be working on something else.

Remember, you can be great at anything—but not everything.

Know what I’m supposed to write: This involves thinking, organizing, outlining, working with index cards, and other things that aren’t writing.

Write somewhere else: I wrote some of this on the bus. There’s not much else to do. I try to disconnect, at least partially.

Have coffee ready, use the restroom: And other small logistic things. This is really identifying reasons to get up during a time block and preventing them from happening.

Answer a few questions: Something I really enjoyed in Smarter, Better, Faster is the set of questions Charles Duhigg goes through before reading through a research study. I’ll paraphrase it.

Now: What do you plan to do?

First: What’s the first step?

Distractions: What issues might you run into?

Solutions: What can you do to avoid those issues?

Success: What does success look like for this task?

Steps: What’s necessary for success?

After: What task comes after this one?

Put on some tunes: Or white noise and sounds of the forest. I use focus@will, Spotify, or various iOS apps.

Set a timer: I’ve tried using the Pomodoro Technique. It seems like, without fail, I lose focus before the 25 minutes are up. Yes, it sounds ridiculous saying I have a hard time focusing for 25 minutes. But focus requires practice. I’ve been trying 15 minutes lately and it seems to be working better. I’ll work toward increasing this.

I’d like to build a trigger

In the Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin describes a system for creating a sense of calm. His website provides a summary (and also a clip from the audiobook):

To create your own catalyst for peak performance, first identify the one key activity that is most relaxing for you. Then shape a simple routine comprising this and four to five additional personal relaxation methods you know work for you. Practice this routine daily for one month during down time to entrench a calm state of mind.

With the routine in place, he describes the next step of substituting the relaxing activity for a performance activity. A sense of calm is helpful in stressful situations. You then work to compress the routine into a few minutes that you can do anywhere.

Sitting down to write isn’t exactly a performance situation. It’d be great to apply these steps to build a routine that triggers a state of focus.

In the meantime, I’ll continue with the usual: sit down in a coffee shop, set a timer, and then listen to recordings of coffee shops to drown out the coffee shop noise.

Write Every Day

In Write Every Day: How to Write Faster, and Write More, Cathy Yardley discusses different strategies to implement when establishing a writing routine. As usual with writing books, it’s targeted toward novelists1. Here are some of my highlights.

if you talk about something, it’s a dream… if you schedule it, it’s real.

I didn’t tell many people about this goal to write 100 posts in 100 days2. I also didn’t have a schedule my first few weeks. I had a post where I thought “oh just gotta fix a link and write the last few sentences”. Which was fine. But then a bunch of them piled up and I needed to track things.

I also didn’t really have a good place to store ideas. And had a handful of posts I knew I wanted to write ‘next’. Then I’d jump around between them or just get decision fatigue. With the schedule, I know what posts to focus on that day. And I can rest easy knowing that the others are somewhere in the future.

it takes approximately five finished manuscripts under your belt to gain a workable competency.

Workable competency. That’s a good way to put it. I’d love to be workably competent. Even at a very good pace, writing every day and finishing a manuscript every six months, that’s still 2.5 years. If I keep this pace up, I’ll hit workable competency around post #900.

By the end of this project, I worry that instead of having the experience of writing 100 posts, I’ll really have written my first post 100 times. With no improvement between the first and the last. That might actually be the case because I’m not revising and revising and revising and thinking hard to say things in fewer words.

On the other hand, I’m sure the 100th post will come easier and be a little more organized on the first pass. it’ll hopefully be slightly, slightly less *]([crappy*.

You don’t get a chance to write until you set the container. It creates a commitment, and it helps you get control of your day, rather than being at the mercy of it.

Something I enjoyed during my short stint with Morning Pages is the rule that you stop after three pages. No more and no less. You finish and move on with your day.

Early on, I was writing longer posts and not finishing things each day. In trying to fix that, I’ve been looking to split posts up if they get too long. I’ve adjusted too far on the other end so sometimes I’ve split a topic too small and don’t really have enough to say for something to stand alone.

Setting the container and moving that container to a specific time in the day makes things real. It reminds me of Cal Newport setting a flexible schedule for deep work.

“SMART” goals. That stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time Bound.

Stretch and ‘SMART’—these two types of goals were my biggest takeaways from Charles Duhigg’s Smarter, Better, Faster. Making a conscious effort to set both has helped. The stretch goal is having a successful blog3. Here’s the breakdown for one of the ‘SMART” goals:

  • Specific: Finish 100 posts in 100 days.
  • Measurable: A post is ‘finished’ when it’s online. I learned a few weeks in that some posts felt ‘finished’ in Google Docs but there were still some stray links and images to add. Then they built up and I was about 85% done with a dozen posts. Meaning none of them were finished.
  • Attainable: I’m currently on pace. I got in the hole early so am having to do a couple weeks with two posts each day.
  • Time bound: 100 days.
  1. I wonder if there’s a giant pool of people reading books like these for NanoWriMo and things like that.
  2. I told my girlfriend. I told some friends I’m trying to write. That’s pretty much it.
  3. Though it took a few weeks to realize, oh, I’m blogging. And I’m still not completely sure what it will be about by the end of it. Though it’s starting to seem like it’s about writing and reading.