Knowing Your Limits

Hi. I'm here. Alive and kicking, even.

You may have noticed that my last published article on this site was on my birthday, February 12th. It wasn't even a real article so much as much as a snarky little snippet of an update. While I'd like to tell you I've been on a birthday-fueled bender for the past month and a half that has kept me from writing regularly, the truth/excuse is much more mundane. 

When you are an independent business owner, have made a commitment to (try to) sleep at least seven hours a night, are a full time PhD student, and try to have a life beyond sitting in front of a computer, then sometimes time seems to disappear. In the past few months my plate has been filled with:

  • Organizing and producing TEDxClaremontColleges 2014
  • Co-authoring a chapter for a new handbook about flow at work with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
  • Writing my thesis on the connection between self-leadership, psychological capital, and work satisfaction for independent workers
  • Planning and organizing the first phase of a (potential) four-year program development and research project with Right to Play
  • Taking graduate classes in Organizational Theory and Organizational Development & Change
  • Acting as a teaching assistant for a class on Positive Organizational Psychology
  • Working with four coaching clients on a regular basis
  • Conducting an independent research assignment for an undisclosed client for a very exciting, yet undisclosed for now (sorry!), project
  • Working with 3 different startups on some aspect of organizational or positive psychology related development
  • Helping build a leadership coaching program for the lab/non-profit consulting firm I work for at school

These are not excuses, only explanations as to where my time has been allocated over the past few months. While it may seem like I'm throwing in the towel when it comes to my work here at this website, I'm actually far from doing that. In fact, I'm writing this article during a break at Pioneer Nation -- a conference hosted by Chris Guillebeau and dedicated to indie work and workers. 

This conference is reminding me I'm more committed than ever to growing my business as a coach and consultant. We are only a day into the conference and I'm already bursting at the seams with ideas and projects I want to undertake to make Sam Spurlin Coaching & Consulting better.

However, I'm also realistic. 

See the purple and the grey slices in this graph? Those represent my student commitments (purple) and teaching assistant (gray) duties over the past 30 days. The green and the blue represent Sam Spurlin Coaching & Consulting and Outlier Consulting Group. Nearly 41% of my working time is being spent on preparing for class, completing class assignments and projects, sitting in class, and completing my teaching assistant duties. Unfortunately, there is little I can do to shrink that number over the next two months. I already work extremely efficiently when it comes to school work and I already cut all the corners I can (responsibly) cut. For now, I have to merely accept that 41% of my already copious working time (usually 12-14 hours a day) has to be committed to my student responsibilities.

There is a ray of hope!

By early May I will have completed the semester and with the end of the semester I will have completed the course work component of my PhD. In a nutshell, that means no more class! Sure, I'll still have responsibilities to my advisor and the research lab in which I work, I still have to work on my thesis and dissertation, and I'll probably still act as a teaching assistant in the future. But all the time I'm spending in class will no longer be the case come early May. 

And that's when I turn all of this -- my coaching, my writing, and my consulting -- into high gear. There is no searching for a job once I finish course work. This is my job. This is where the newly liberated six-ish hours per day that's currently used to keep me from failing out of school will be focused. Six hours that will be allocated to writing more articles, writing more books, designing more e-courses, taking on new consulting projects, and working with new coaching clients.

I'm excited for this -- and I hope you'll stick around through the next two (quiet) months as I finish up my classes. Part of me thinks I should delete all of this and just power through the next two months and somehow be able to start writing and coaching and teaching as much as I feel I should be. I also can't think of a better way to burn myself out. Instead, you guys get the truth. And the truth is I'm already operating at my max capacity. I can't do much more than I'm already doing and I have to be okay with that.

The future -- it's bright.

But after the end of the semester? What happens when I wake up each morning and no longer start every to-do list with, 1.) Read for class, 2.) Work on class project, 3.) Go to class -- that's when the fun is going to start. 

I hope you'll stick around to be part of it.

-----------------

In the mean time, you can join my mailing list to receive updates, you can take the free Work Better email course, you can follow me on Twitter, you can reach out via email to say hi, you can browse nearly four years of archived articles, and learn  what working with me as a coach is like. By the time you've done all that I'll have finished my courses and waiting for you here with open arms.

27 Lessons Learned in 27 Years of Life

On my 27th birthday I thought I'd take some time to share a few of the insights I've gleaned over the past 27 years of my life...

...


...

 

...

 

...

 

Just kidding. 

I don't have any insights other than work hard, try to take the long view on everything, and keep a bit of healthy skepticism around others' advice about how you should spend your time and attention.

It's been a good 27 years -- here's to a few more.

"What an Average Day. Perfect."

How do you set goals and measure your life? If you're like most people, you have an idea for your ideal life that you're constantly measuring yourself against. Moving closer to that ideal constitutes progress. Is there a better way?

What about thinking carefully about an average day?

"This isn’t about that moment when you achieve your target, nor about the moment of elation in doing something great. It’s about “average”. A day that falls into your routine and one that you would happily re-live."

I did something similar to this around the time I decided to cut short my abbreviated career as a high school teacher and apply to graduate school. I asked myself what I wanted my typical day to look like. After having taught for a year and a half I had a pretty good handle on what my average day as a teacher looked like. Was this what my idea of the "average perfect day" was?

Not quite. I wanted my average perfect day to involve a lot of writing, a lot of time by myself to think and work, the opportunity to create something long-lasting and the ability to direct my time how I deemed most appropriate (getting a sense of why I'm so interested in studying, understanding, and participating in indie work?).

I didn't like what I saw as my average perfect day as a teacher and I had the opportunity to make a change -- so I took it.

(There's a whole conversation around how I managed to go through 4 years of college and not realize I was getting into a profession where I didn't like the average day -- but let's save that for another time).

Hyperemployment

Alarmist description of the relationship people have with their online world aside, this article has some interesting points about what it means to communicate primarily via email and social network. Google's latest Gmail tweak that makes it suddenly much easier for anybody to email you slides right into this discussion. 

"...email has become the circulatory system along which internal outsourcing flows. Sending an email is easy and cheap, and emails create obligation on the part of a recipient without any prior agreement." 

I remember this as one of the first things I took from Merlin Mann's writing back in the 43 Folders days. The idea that an email costs almost nothing to send. There is no scarcity like there used to be with a long distance phone call or writing a letter. Any wahoo can write you an email. Does this mean that anybody in the world, regardless of what you're working on, should be able to interrupt you? If you keep your email notifications on and audible then that's what you're saying. That nothing you're working on -- nothing that you're spending your most precious resources on, time and attention -- is worth as much as whatever somebody wants to email you. And that is insane.

"Increasingly, online life in general feels like this. The endless, constant flow of email, notifications, direct messages, favorites, invitations. After that daybreak email triage, so many other icons on your phone boast badges silently enumerating their demands. Facebook notifications. Twitter @-messages, direct messages. Tumblr followers, Instagram favorites, Vine comments. Elsewhere too: comments on your blog, on your YouTube channel. The Facebook page you manage for your neighborhood association or your animal rescue charity. New messages in the forums you frequent. Your Kickstarter campaign updates. Your Etsy shop. Your Ebay watch list. And then, of course, more email. Always more email." 

Thinking about this stuff matters because the difference between being buried beneath the deluge and making your way confidently through the information morass is a delicate one. With half an hour of work and some careful consideration of what information you actually need real-time notification of, you can cut down your distractions by at least 50%. Change the default notification settings on your social networks so you *don't* get email every time somebody interacts with you. Setup some filters in your email that diverts obvious mailing lists and other bulk email around your inbox. The simple change from you allowing your services to notify you and you deciding to consciously check a service for updates is small, yet huge, at the same time.

Nobody is going to protect your time for you. You're the one who has to take charge.

Just Be a Person

Most of my favorite comedy overlaps with philosophy. Good comedy makes you think and laugh because it makes you interact with reality in a way that steps outside your normal perspective. That special brand of comedy that can make you laugh and feel uncomfortable with how close it gets to incredibly core truths about yourself and the world -- that's the good stuff.

Louis CK always seems to have something profound to say when he visits Conan. First, the idea that cell phones are retarding the emotional development of children:

"I think these things are toxic, especially for kids...they don't look at people when they talk to them and they don't build empathy. You know, kids are mean, and it's 'cause they're trying it out. They look at a kid and they go, 'you're fat,' and then they see the kid's face scrunch up and they go, 'oh, that doesn't feel good to make a person do that.' But they got to start with doing the mean thing. But when they write 'you're fat,' then they just go, 'mmm, that was fun, I like that.'"

And then he brings it around to the adult side of things. The idea that we're all constantly distracting ourselves because we can't stand to be alone:

"You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something. That's what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That's being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it's all for nothing and that you're alone. It's down there."

Maybe that's a bit cynical, but the overall point is a good one. How often do we reach into our pockets and grab our phones in order to break the awkward tension of not doing something.

We could all stand to have a little bit more of just sitting around -- just being people. When every little free space in our lives is filled with a new bit of information flowing from our phone where is the room for anything incredible to happen? The stroke of insight? The next big idea? Even just a second to let our brains slow down and absorb the fact that we live in a complex, beauitful, and ever changing world?

You Need a Break

I wish I had shared this a couple weeks ago when most of us (hopefully) had an opportunity to step away from our work and gain some perspective. Matt has many great things to say in this article and it reads as a man, still tired, but finally able to sit still a moment and gaze at the road travelled thus far. 

"In other words, having given myself a few moments to breathe, I was suddenly able to begin tidying, organizing, and arranging my mind once more. And I was shocked as to what I found residing within the depths of my consciousness."

The beginning of the new year is a good time to do some dredging of the consciousness. What you find there isn't always exciting or hopeful or easy to deal with. But everything becomes a little bit easier, at least for a little while, once you've cleared it out of the way.

"In other words — and it's so trite to stumble across this realization, but here we are — it's of the utmost importance to allow yourself some time away from work and obligations. Focusing solely upon work will invariably coerce you into an angry, anxious, and worrisome state, regardless of the clear positivity that may lie ahead of you."

Amen.

The world doesn't need more angry people. Work, especially if you've created it for yourself as an independent worker, should be a force for good in your life more than a source of consternation. 

Take a step back, breathe, and tidy up.

Creation Is the Best Cure

I often think about the ratio between creation and consumption in my life. My moods can be fleeting and sometimes I'm not sure what causes me to have a productive week and then a week where I feel like I'm working at half power. The closest I've come to cracking that code in terms of my own self-knowledge has to deal with how much time I spend brining new things into the world versus how much time I spend consuming things other people have brought into the world.

When I feel like crap it seems that my create/consume ratio is skewed completely toward consume. When I'm on top of my game then I'm in creation mode. The scientist in me won't let me confuse correlation with causation -- but I think there's definitely a chance that my creation spurs good moods and is not simply the result of one.

Rands seems to agree:

"When I am in a foul mood, I have a surefire way to improve my outlook – I build something. A foul mood is a stubborn beast and it does not give ground easily. It is an effort to simply get past the foulness in order to start building, but once the building has begun, the foul beast loses ground."

I can get behind his rallying cry:

"Turn off those notifications, turn your phone over, turn on your favorite music, stare at your blank slate and consider what you might build. In that moment of consideration, you’re making an important decision: create or consume? The things we’re giving to the future are feeling increasingly unintentional and irrelevant. They are half-considered thoughts of others. When you choose to create, you’re bucking the trend because you’re choosing to take the time to build."

The Surprisingly Hopeful Upside of the Milgram Experiments

Nowadays there are certain hoops you have to (rightfully) jump through when you want to conduct a psychological experiment involving human participants. The impetus for those hoops are a couple of infamous experiments that most people who have taken an introduction to psychology class will be familiar with. One of those infamous experiments was conducted by an individual named Stanley Milgram.

6.png

Milgram was interested in the phenomenon of authority and whether people would follow orders even when it went against their own moral code or values. To test this phenomenon, he set up an experiment where a participant would be given the task of trying to teach another individual. When the learner got an answer wrong, the participant was instructed to flip a lever that administered a shock to the learner. There was a series of levers in front of the participant that were clearly labelled with increasing amounts of voltage. What the participant didn't know was that the learner was actually an actor and they weren't truly being shocked. It sure sounded and looked like it, though.

Milgram wanted to see how far people would go in shocking the learner. At the highest few levels of voltage the learner would be screaming and begging the participant to stop shocking them. Eventually, they would go silent, giving the impression they passed out or even died from the shocks. Milgram would be in the same room as the participant and wearing his official looking white lab coat. When a participant would experience unease Milgram would use the following four cues:

StanleyMigramMachine.jpg
  • Please continue.
  • The experiment requires that you continue.
  • It is absolutely essential that you continue.
  • You have no other choice, you must go on.

If the subject still wished to stop after all four successive verbal prods, the experiment was halted. 

The results are very well known and quite distressing. The vast majority of people who participated in the experiment went all the way to the end, delivering the most violent shock three times in succession.  At this point it would appear that the learner had passed out, or possibly even died.

The Milgram Experiment, With a Twist

All of this is actually to set up what I really wanted to talk about and something I wasn't aware of until a few weeks ago. Milgram did many different replications and variations of this study. While Milgram's overall study a very distressing look at the human mind and what pain we are willing to inflict upon each other even with a relatively minor amount of official pressure, there was one variation that is incredibly hopeful.

In this variation the participant would be sitting in a waiting room while the person before them finished up the experiment. However, this "participant" was actually an actor and his role was to refuse to go on with the experiment once he realized he was "hurting" another human being (who, remember, was also an actor). When it was the actual participant's turn to be in the study the likelihood of them continuing all the way to the end dropped substantially. Apparently, seeing someone else be willing to stand up for what's right emboldened the participant to do the same thing. Whereas 65 out of 100 participants went all the way to the end and administered the massive shock in the original experiment, when there was an example of someone standing up and refusing to go further only 4 out of 40 went all the way to the end.

Positive Deviance: Do You Have It?

I don't want to beat you over the head with the implications of this because I think they're pretty clear. Where can you stand up and be a positive example to someone today? It's pretty clear we are constantly  scanning our environments for cures about how we're supposed to act. What kind of positive cues can you provide for your kids, your friends, your colleagues, or your employees? What status quo rubs you the wrong way and what small thing can you do to show others it's okay to feel, speak, or act in the opposite direction?

In one of the most eye-opening and distressing psychological experiments of all time there is a dollop of hope. You can be the domino that starts a positive chain reaction. In a world of conformity a few conspicuous non-conformists can have a huge impact. Is that you?

* I heard this story during a talk given by Dr. Phil Zimbardo in November of last year. That name might be familiar because of an eerily similar experiment he did...

Growth Mindset on Skis

I love reading examples of growth mindset in action. This article from the New York Times about Mikaela Shiffrin, the 18-year-old World Champion skier and Olympic favorite, shows how she is an excellent case study for the power of having a growth mindset

It's refreshing to see the choices she and her parents made in her development. Less races, more practice. This applies across the board, regardless of what you want to get good at.

“Some people might call our approach intense. But it’s not, because the motivation is not to be better than other people at something. The motivation comes from a belief that almost anything can be mastered if you’re willing to put in the hours to master it. If you’re going to do something, do it as best as you can.”

“I’d say it was the opposite,” Mikaela said. “I remember as a little girl in Vail, it would be a powder day and my parents would say, ‘Let’s go free ski in the back bowls.’ And I’d say: ‘No, I want to stay on the racecourse and train. I’m working on my pole plants.’ I wanted to get better at something every day.”

I don't know what pole plants are but it sounds boring. What boring part of your job or your hobby do you practice over and over?

Thoughts on Letter Writing as a Tool

"Before the advent of email, many writers maintained a healthy relationship with their correspondence; they found letter writing to be a useful complement to their main literary projects. Letters were not only a way to stay in touch with colleagues or test out ideas and themes on the page, but also a valuable method of easing into and out of a state of mind where they could pursue more daunting and in-depth writing." - Mason Currey

I'm guessing you aren't writing many letters nowadays. I had never thought of the role letter writing may have played in the past quite like this. I think I mostly assumed letter writing was simply a communication tool and not a method for warming up and shifting into other work. This made me think about my own work methodology and whether I have an equivalent of letter writing to "ease into and out of a state of mind where [I] can pursue more daunting and in-depth writing."

I've been journaling using Day One every morning for awhile now, shifting between stresm-of-consciousness and the recent Art of Manliness journaling prompts. That serves as a bit of a warm up but maybe there is something else I could be doing?

Do you have an equivalent of writing letters to ease you into the state of mind that allows you to do deeper and more daunting work?

State of the Sam: 2013 Edition

Introduction

Following the inaugural effort in 2012, here’s my comprehensive review of 2013. Like 2012, this is going to be a very personal and self-reflective article. If that’s not your bag, feel free to skip this one. On the other hand, if you’re interested in how other people live or are curious about the types of books I tend to read or the kinds of software I love, then this article is right in your wheel house. I could easily break this up into several separate posts but I’d rather keep these hyper-personal posts as isolated as possible so they’re easy to skip if it’s not your thing. So take a potty break and buckle in — it’s going to be a long one and we’re not stopping until we get there.

Part I: Travel & Major Events

2012 saw me traveling to Doha for over a week, living in Prague for around three months and spending a few days in Berlin, taking a cross-country train trip, and house sitting a “tiny house” in Portland, Oregon. I did a lot of traveling in 2013 as well, but not of the same international flavor of 2012. In chronological order, here are my travels and other major events for 2013.

  • Auburn Hills, Michigan —> Claremont, California: Drove solo in a 1998 Jetta with over 200,000 miles on it from Auburn Hills, MI to Claremont, CA. Stopped in Kansas City, Albuquerque, and Phoenix. Had a really great time on this trip and discovered I’m pretty darn good at driving long distances by myself. I also recorded myself talking to myself occasionally.
  • Atlanta, Georgia: Went to Society of Consulting Psychology Midwinter Conference in Atlanta and presented a poster. My colleague and I presented on the idea of using mobile technology to collect data in near real-time which could then be used in personal development coaching.
  • Santa Barbara, California: David Allen invited Emily and I to Santa Barbara to sit in on a pilot for a workshop he is developing. Emily is just a big nerd as me so even though it was on Valentine’s Day we made the trek out there and got our GTD on. I took her out to dinner afterward, don’t worry.
  • Palm Springs, California: Went to Palm Springs to visit a colleague and have a mini planning retreat for TEDxClaremontColleges.
  • Went with a group of classmates to the site of a forest fire in the Los Angeles National Forest to plant saplings.
  • New York, New York: I was selected to be a 99U Fellow so I attended the conference in New York City. It was my first time in New York City and a great experience overall.
  • Organized and held TEDxClaremontCollegesSalon, a small TEDx event with two live speakers and 75 attendees.
  • I graduated with my Masters degree in Positive Developmental Psychology.
  • Bakersfield, California: My best friend from my undergrad days was married in Bakersfield, California and I was one of his groomsmen. 
  • Los Angeles, California: Presented a poster at the IPPA World Conference in Los Angeles
  • Flew home to Michigan for some summer vacation.
  • White Plains, Kentucky: My family drove to White Plains, Kentucky for my Uncle’s wedding.
  • White Plains, Kentucky (again): A couple weeks later we all went back to White Plains, Kentucky for our normal summer vacation to visit my grandparents.
  • San Juan Capistrano, California: With a few weeks remaining in the summer, I flew back to California to attend my good friend’s wedding and then flew back to Michigan.
  • Grand Rapids, Michigan: Just before heading back to Claremont to start my first semester of the Ph.D program I drove across Michigan with my family to attend my cousin’s wedding.
  • San Francisco, California: My TEDxClaremontColleges co-organizer lived in San Francisco over the summer and we really needed to meet face-to-face to do some work together so I drove up to San Francisco for an evening (this trip was made in the same 1998 Jetta that completed the marathon trip from Michigan to California).
  • Auburn Hills, Michigan: Roughly a month into the semester I flew back home to attend my brother’s wedding.
  • Flint, Michigan: A few weeks after my brother’s wedding I flew back to Michigan again to attend the Hero Round Table conference and collect data for a project I’m working on in the area.
  • Auburn Hills, Michigan: I decided at the last second to book a flight home to surprise my family for Thanksgiving.
  • Christmas Eve I packed up my bags and flew from California to Michigan one last time for the holidays

Get a taste of these adventures and the rest of my year in this highly abbreviated photo set of 2013.

Part II: Books

I love books and I’ve been tracking every single one I’ve read since 2008. In 2012 I read the fewest books I had read in a couple years thanks to the rigors of graduate school. In 2013 that trend continued as I only completed 39 books. As I said in 2012, if I actually tracked total pages read and included readings for my classes I probably read more this year than I ever have before. However, I’m only talking about books that I read for fun or my own development outside of my required reading for school. Like last year, I’m going to share my favorites and the ones that I re-read. You can see the entire list for 2013 and every other year here.

Favorites

  1. The Power of Habit: I’m very skeptical of science books written by non-scientists but this is one that I happily endorse. The habits we develop play a huge role in how we feel about our lives. This book does a great job explaining where they come from and more importantly, how to exert some level of control over the process.

  2. Workflow: Beyond Productivity: I wrote about this book very briefly a few months ago so I’ll direct you there for a synopsis. Suffice it to say it’s unlike any other productivity book I’ve ever read.

  3. Good Work: This is a book that I very recently finished. I’m not sure how I’ve gotten this far being interested in the idea of meaningful work, minimalism, and conscious living and didn’t know E.F. Schumacher. I have some more of his work on my to-read list and I’m anxious to dig into it. His ideas around using the right technology for the right situation made me question a lot of my assumptions about what it will take to improve the lives of people around the world.

Re-Reads

  1. What I Talk About When I Talk About Running: I’ve recently started moving toward getting back into running and this book has helped stir the coals. The author is a novelist and even though I’m not writing novels I feel like we have a lot in common. Both novelists and researchers spend a lot of time sitting on their butts working through hard problems. I like the idea that running not only helps me counteract that sedentary lifestyle but also helps me develop the mental skills that will allow me to be successful in my work. This book is worth reading if you’re interested in writing and/or running at all.
  2. Mindfulness in Plain English (re-read in 2012 as well): Along with my somewhat restored running habit, I’ve been making a concerted effort to re-focus my meditation practice. This is the go-to book whenever I need a refresher. So simply and powerfully written.
  3. Ready for Anything (re-read in 2012 as well): Bite sized pieces of GTD goodness. I read this whenever I feel a little bit stale with my work and it always helps me get moving in the right direction.
  4. Getting Things Done (re-read in 2012 as well): I re-read GTD because I was leading a consulting project with David Allen’s company. I wanted to go into the project being as fresh as possible on the methodology. I believe this is my 5th or 6th reading. I’m sure I’ll read it again next year, too.

In 2012 I declared that I wanted to read some of the Great Books and wanted to possibly start a new fantasy series. Neither of those happened in 2013 (although I did read a few more business/entrepreneurship books as I predicted). I don’t really see this changing in 2013 as I plunge head first into finishing my thesis and other PhD requirements. We’ll see though — maybe I’ll surprise myself.

Part III: Things I Love

I’m still very much a minimalist and still spend a decent amount of time researching the products I allow to come into my life. I’m happy to report that I still use almost everything from my 2012 list. I’ve made a complete change over to the Pilot G2 .7 pens and no longer use the Sharpie pens. I sold my 2008 Unibody Macbook and the Apple Wireless mouse. I now have a 2013 13” MacBook Pro with Retina Display and a Razer Death Adder gaming mouse. My Bose IE2 headphones were tragically lost and right now are being replaced by nothing special. My Bodum French press met an untimely demise in the sink when it slipped out of my hands while I was washing it. I now use an Aeropress or Chemex to make my morning coffee. In addition to the Aeropress, Chemex, MacBook Pro, and Pilot G2 pens I can add an iPad Air to the list. It’s simply a 16 GB Wi-Fi only version but has become a major component of my workflow. I have to read an inordinate amount of PDFs for my research and reading them on the iPad is a delight. I’ve also started writing with it much more than I anticipated as well as reading the New York Times and Wall Street Journal every morning.

Looking back, I’m really excited to see that not that much has changed from 2012 to 2013. The computer was upgraded, the headphones were inadvertently downgraded, an iPad was added to the mix but the vast majority of the stuff I loved in 2012 I still love today.

Part IV: Software

The 2013 review of the software I love and use follows the same theme as the section above. Almost all of the software I used in 2012 I still love and used in 2013. Instead of going through item by item I’ll refer you to the 2012 list and only point out what has changed.

In 2012 I used Chrome almost exclusively for my OS X and iOS browsing needs. Since upgrading to Mavericks and then upgrading to my new computer, I have been using Safari almost exclusively instead. The annoyances that drove me to Chrome several years ago seem to be largely resolved so until something comes up that starts to make Safari insufferable I’m going to stick with the native Apple software.

Reeder was a big part of my OS X workflow in 2012 and with the ending of Google Reader and the lack of support for the desktop version of Reeder for Feedly it has sadly lost its spot on my hard drive. I still use Reeder on my iPhone and iPad to read RSS feeds. The main change this has had on my reading habits is that I never read RSS feeds on my computer any more. Now it almost always happens on my iPad (and occasionally my iPhone). The last major change has been moving from Tweetdeck on all platforms to Tweetbot. I think the major reason for the change was not because of any major problem with Tweetdeck but with how many people I follow on Twitter and elsewhere raving out Tweetbot. I decided to check it out, liked it, and have stuck with it since then.

I haven’t used Nag on OS X in forever and have unsubscribed from The Magazine on iOS. I really enjoyed The Magazine but found myself subscribing to too many things I felt obligated to read. There’s a good chance I’ll be renewing my subscription in the future, though. I haven’t played Leterpress in awhile but it’s still a pretty great game.

There are a few pieces of software that I didn’t mention in 2012 that I now love. Circa for iOS is awesome and one of the main ways I get my news. Knock is awesome and I feel like I’m living in the future every time I knock my phone in my pocket to unlock my computer. I used the Harvest app on my phone a lot to track my time throughout the day but have just shifted to a new app as of yesterday (I’m going to hold off on recommending its replacement until I try it for awhile). The Wall Street Journal iOS app is surprisingly good and I enjoy using it every morning. The New York Times app is only slightly worse but is still a breeze to use every morning while I drink my coffee.

Part V: Work

I’m still a full-time graduate student, just like in 2012. However, this year I started the Ph.D program at CGU which has slightly different requirements than my last two years of grad school. Namely, I’m in the process of writing a publishable thesis and am heavily involved in a research lab on campus.

The lab where I work is focused on leader development and is actually part research lab and part consulting firm. I’m working on developing the coaching program for the organization and am getting to work on some incredibly cool stuff. On top of my school responsibilities I’m still conducting one-on-one coaching and writing for Sam Spurlin Coaching & Consulting. Another new endeavor this year is a positive psychology consulting and evaluation firm, Outlier Consulting Group, that I started with a colleague. 2013 also saw me pick up some freelance writing for one of my favorite websites, 99U. I wrote several features for them as well as numerous shorter pieces. I always keep my eyes open for additional exciting freelance opportunities that align well with my other interests and endeavors as well.  Finally, I’m still co-curating TEDxClaremontColleges. Our event is happening in late February and after that I’ll be transitioning out of my role with that organization so I can focus on finishing my Ph.D requirements and working on my other businesses.

A few of the projects I wrote about in 2012 have been shuttered in the name of focus and clarity. GettingHistoryDone.com and Process>Product.com have both been closed. I haven’t done a Weekly Video Update in a long time but never officially ended that project. Claremont Coworking is something I’m still very, very interested in but have decided to push to the back burner for the time being. It may get picked up again in 2014 as I finish up my courses in May and have a little bit more time to focus on other endeavors.

Part VI: Information Consumption

I’m adding something new to this review that I didn’t do in 2012. I’d like to take stock of the various sources I’ve allowed into my life in terms of information consumption. Given the always-on nature of the internet and the utter deluge of information I could consume if I let myself, I think it’s worth thinking about what has made the cut.

I use RSS to follow a handful of blogs in the Apple/technology, writing, and productivity spheres:

Work/Productivity

Generally Interesting

Professional Development

Tech

I recently had a bunch of airline miles that were going to expire and had the option to use them on magazine subscriptions. Therefore, I’m now getting a ton of magazine subscriptions which I’m treating as a tryout to see what I’ll continue once my year of free issues wears off. Right now that means I receive:

  •  TIME
  •  Sports Illustrated
  •  The Wall Street Journal
  •  The New York Times
  •  Fortune
  •  Forbes
  •  Inc.
  •  Wired
  •  Fast Company

Finally, I regularly listen to a handful of podcasts:

I’ll snag the occasional episode of a few other podcasts based on the guest.

Conclusion

This may seem like a huge waste of time (although if you got this far I’m going to assume you think otherwise). Sitting down once a year and really taking stock of what’s going on in your life is worth the couple of hours you’ll sink into the activity. Especially once you start doing some sort of review regularly, whether weekly, monthly, yearly or all of the above, you’ll start seeing patterns in the data and will have ideas for how to improve things. At the very least, I hope this glimpse into my life sparked some ideas, new blogs to follow, software to try out, or made you start thinking a little bit more carefully about what you allow into your life.

Looking ahead to 2014 I see much of the same. I don’t foresee my software or loved items lists changing much. I’m sure I’ll try out a few new pieces of software and will have to upgrade or replace some of my physical items, but overall the way those lists look now will probably remain unchanged for a long time. I hope I can push myself to read more books than I did in 2013 and it would be nice if I could read more than two fiction books all year like I did this year (and the year before). In terms of media consumption, my goal is to keep the list the same size it is now, or ideally make it smaller. It’s easy for me to spend too much time and energy consuming information instead of creating. I’m sure the list of blogs will change over time and I know for a fact I won’t be renewing all those magazines. Hopefully I can get my sources for each area of information I care about down to a few very high quality sources that I trust and find interesting. 

That’s it. 2013 is a wrap and I thank you for sticking with me to the end. If you do a similar review I’d love to check it out so leave a link to it in the comments below.

What Is Your Job Today?

My job is to write words that inspire and educate. Words that light a spark of inspiration or illuminate a new viewpoint. 

My job isn’t to respond to emails within minutes of receiving them.

My job is to have ideas about how to uncover new understanding of the world. My job is to take those ideas and guide them through the gauntlet of good scientific research.

My job isn’t to make sure my Twitter feed stays refreshed and read.

My job is to coach people as they work through difficulties and come to realizations about what they can do. My job is to ask questions that make my clients think about their situation in new ways and come to a new understanding.

My job isn’t to read every new article published by every website I find interesting.

If I’m doing my job right I should feel uncomfortable. Good work is done at the boundaries of ability and inability. If I’m not pushing myself to the edge of my capabilities then I’m probably doing what hundreds, thousands, even millions of people have already done.

If I’m not doing my job right I feel insulated and sluggish. I feel like I’m walking the path that has been tread before. I feel like I’m sitting in a bubble of neither comfort nor discomfort. 

Sometimes I have to remind myself what my job actually is because the world is not interested in arranging itself to make my work easier to do. The easy choice is rarely the right choice. I have to structure my thoughts and behaviors to continually chip away at the block of stone that looks like nothing more than a misshapen lump right now — but is slowly transforming into the masterpiece (which is never actually finished) I have in my mind.

What is your job today?

And, perhaps more importantly, what isn't your job today?

Are You Working Better Yet?

A couple months ago I wrote and published a free email-course called "Work Better." It's all about how you can start using some principles from positive psychology, craftsmanship, self-experimentation, and a bunch of other concepts to improve the experience of actually doing work. A good number of people signed up when I first released it but the new subscriber rate has fallen off since then. 

First, if you haven't signed up for the email course yet and you spend any amount of time doing some kind of knowledge work then you should check it out. Second, if you've already subscribed to it I'd love to get your feedback. What part did you think was the most helpful? The least helpful? What do you want to know more about? What challenges do you face that I didn't address in the course? Email me with your feedback!

I'm working on a 2.0 version of the course (which may not remain as an email course...) and would love as much feedback as possible.

Thanks for checking it out and we'll be back with regularly scheduled programming on Tuesday!

Thoughts on Mindful Sharing

"Imagine sitting with a group friends who randomly spurt out the titles of articles that they have read. That’s interesting, you think to yourself. So you look up some of the articles and read them yourself. Then you spurt out the title to another group of friends, who are spurting out their own circulation of titles too. Other than impressing one another with our bibliographic prowess, what has all this spurting accomplished?" - James Shelley

I often find myself thinking about how I'm interacting with the deluge of information I experience every day. More importantly, what is my role in others' experiences of the information they face every day? Does my writing enhance the overall quality of the information they take in or does it get lost in the shuffle? Does the way I interact with social media add or subtract from the experience of others?

I'm finding myself drawn more and more to those individuals who are carefully curating what they share on the internet. I'm becoming more interested in what people think about what they're sharing and not the sharing itself. Retweets are less interesting. Even comments on blogs are not quite the right venue for really digging into a topic. I'm a firm believer that everyone should have a place on the internet that is 100% their own to do with as they please. Ideally, that means sharing opinions and reflecting on issues in a form factor greater than 140 characters. I want people to take the ideas I write about here on SamSpurlin.com and expand, respond, critique or otherwise interact with them on their own sites (and then send me the link, of course!)

What if we all just took one main idea, every day, and shared it? You get one retweet. One share on Facebook. One article to write. How would we approach it? 

 

Thoughts on a Career Worth Having

"How can we explain this? Certainly factors like the sluggish economic recovery and stuck wages play a role, but I think the real answer is even more straightforward: It’s not clear how one designs a satisfying career in today’s professional culture, especially if lasting fulfillment (as opposed to salary maximization) is the goal." - Nathanial Koloc

The quotation above is one of the main ideas that's driving my research efforts as a Ph.D student. People move jobs more than ever nowadays and the traditional plan of getting a "good job" and working your way up an organization over 40 years is largely a relic of the past. There needs to be new ways to think about what a successful career looks like in today's more fluid job market.

Koloc argues that we should seek legacy, mastery, and freedom (in that order). I have qualms with that order, but fully support those concepts otherwise. I think mastery often drives freedom and legacy but I'll leave my quibbles with the specific order for another time. I'm particularly interested in the idea of freedom and how more and more people are consciously choosing careers as freelancers to fulfill this need. A career of conscious freelancing or solopreneurship is becoming more and more viable and I want to understand the forces that preduct and support success in this kind of work.

The final point of the article is one that I predictably throw my full weight behind: treat your career like a grand experiment. 

"I use the word “grand” to describe this experiment because the reality is that your career is not just a way to earn a living. It’s your chance to discover what you’re here for and what you love."

It can be easy to lose sight of this in the quest to make enough money to keep food on the table but I think we do so at our own peril. I think work should be more than a transaction where you shut off your brain and emotion and dreams for 8 hours a day in exchange for a modicum of security. 

We can do better than that.