Technology

The List #22

Welcome to the 22nd edition of The List, a roundup of the most interesting bits of the Internet to catch my attention over the past couple weeks. Kick back with a hot beverage, load up these links, and enjoy.

If you like these articles and topics I recommend following me on Twitter as I've been known to share the best stuff I find there, too.

The Shape of Things to Come - The New Yorker

This article is long, so get nice and comfy before you dig into it. If you're interested in behind the scenes coverage of how the most successful company in the world works -- and the man behind the design of the products that have propelled it to that rank -- then this is worth it. Ive is an interesting guy with an eye for detail that is equal parts impressive and exhausting.

How Medium is Building a New Type of Company with No Managers - First Round

I know this isn't a new article but I thought it was one of the best I've seen that really shows what working in a holacratic organization is like. It's one thing to read the manifesto or look at the diagrams it's based on and something totally different to hear from someone working in it every day.

The other thing I'm left with after reading this article is that all these headers about how holacratic organizations don't have managers seem more attention-grabby than truthful. Granted, I haven't worked in a holacratic organization but from what I can tell (and I want to develop this idea further) I think it would be more accurate to say everyone is a manager. Everyone seems to phase in and out of managerial roles as the situation dictates it which is not the same thing as having no managers. Perhaps a quibble on my part but something I'll be thinking and writing about more in the future.

Mike Babcock: The Perfectionist - Sportsnet

Looking at the pen in my hand, he tries to put his outlook into a perspective he believes I’ll understand. “I don’t think there’s a secret to success,” he says. “It’s lifelong learning. What you did last year and how you wrote last year, if you’re writing the same next year someone else is going to have your job. You have to evolve because everyone else evolves.”

I don't imagine there are too many hockey fans out there but this is a fascinating look into my favorite team's head coach. Babcock is widely acknowledged as the best NHL head coach and reading a little bit about his approach to work shows why that is the case. life and work.

Thoreau on Hard Work, the Myth of Productivity, and the True Measure of Meaningful Labor - Brain Pickings

The really efficient laborer will be found not to crowd his day with work, but will saunter to his task surrounded by a wide halo of ease and leisure. There will be a wide margin for relaxation to his day. He is only earnest to secure the kernels of time, and does not exaggerate the value of the husk. Why should the hen set all day? She can lay but one egg, and besides she will not have picked up materials for a new one. Those who work much do not work hard.

Makes me think of this article I wrote a few months ago. I'm still working at developing this but it's a practice that seems worth the effort (which is about as paradoxical sentence you can write when talking about relaxation, right?)

Photo by sun_line

The List #18

This special weekday edition of The List is brought to you by relaxation, rejuvenation, the letter R, and the complete lack of will to do anything remotely looking like work over the weekend.

Why You Should be Paid For Commitment, Not Hours or Results - 99U

This strikes me as terrible. Am I wrong? I'm much more interested in being compensated for what I can do and what I produce -- not how committed I am to an organization. Yuck.

The Cult of Busy - Medium

Busy busy busy busy.

I've made it a personal point to not respond with the word "busy" when people ask me how I'm doing. It's a cop out answer and it shuts down a conversation.

Why We're Building All Tomorrows - Medium

I've done a little bit of consulting with this company and they are working on some great stuff. They just released an app called Emojiary which is a nice mix of quirky emoji-based journal writing and experience sampling method/Quantified Self personal development. You should definitely check it out.

How to Build More Flow into Your Work Day - Entheos

This is my second entheos class and this time it's all about how to tweak the way you work and think to help you experience greater flow during your work day.

Photo by honbliss

The List #15

Welcome to another edition of The List. The List is a curated list of my favorite things from the past week. Articles, videos, podcasts -- the media always changes but the unifying characteristic is that I loved whatever I end up sharing.

1. Advanced Tricycling by Merlin Mann

I look forward to new Merlin Mann talks like most kids look forward to Christmas morning. I'm an unapologetic fan of what Merlin does and how he thinks about what doing great work looks like. This is his latest talk about what it means to get better at something and how to even know what you're supposed to be getting better at.

2. Looking at Productivity as a State of Mind by Sendhil Mullainanthan (NYT)

Factories imposed discipline. They enforced strict work hours. There were rules for when you could go home and for when you had to show up at the beginning of your shift. If you arrived late you could be locked out for the day. For workers being paid piece rates, this certainly got them up and at work on time. You can even see something similar with the assembly line. Those operations dictate a certain pace of work. Like a running partner, an assembly line enforces a certain speed.

As Professor Clark provocatively puts it: “Workers effectively hired capitalists to make them work harder. They lacked the self-control to achieve higher earnings on their own.”

A provocative and fascinating idea about the Industrial Revolution -- and I think it has merit. There's something to be said for the external pressures that force us to work hard and have discipline. When I talk to independent workers one of the things I hear most commonly is how difficult it is to be productive and do great work when working from home and/or for yourself.

It seems to me that the future of work is a matter of finding the balance between the oppressive yet highly productive paradigm of the Industrial Revolution-era factory and the incredibly autonomous yet completely structure-less la-la land of independent knowledge work. Building external pressure into your work day while also allowing for autonomy is a delicate and important balance.

3. Why I Just Asked My Students to Put Their Laptops Away by Clay Shirky (Medium)

If I ever teach in a college setting, I'm going to make this article required reading on day one. It's the best argument I've heard for why laptops should be put away during most college classes. I've always felt that it was important for students to be treated like adults and if we wanted to use our computers in class then we should be able to. However, Shirky makes some points that makes me realize it's more complex than that:

"The fact that hardware and software is being professionally designed to distract was the first thing that made me willing to require rather than merely suggest that students not use devices in class. There are some counter-moves in the industry right now — software that takes over your screen to hide distractions, software that prevents you from logging into certain sites or using the internet at all, phones with Do Not Disturb options — but at the moment these are rear-guard actions. The industry has committed itself to an arms race for my students’ attention, and if it’s me against Facebook and Apple, I lose."

And,

"Anyone distracted in class doesn’t just lose out on the content of the discussion, they create a sense of permission that opting out is OK, and, worse, a haze of second-hand distraction for their peers. In an environment like this, students need support for the better angels of their nature (or at least the more intellectual angels), and they need defenses against the powerful short-term incentives to put off complex, frustrating tasks. That support and those defenses don’t just happen, and they are not limited to the individual’s choices. They are provided by social structure, and that structure is disproportionately provided by the professor, especially during the first weeks of class."

If you're a professor, I'd love to hear what your take is on this article and your own policy for computers in class. If you're a student, this article might make you think about your computer usage in a new light as well.

Photo by Katherine Lim

Digital vs. Analog: The Battle of Productivity Systems

A couple weeks ago I was honored to be mentioned on an episode of Mac Power Users about task management. Listening to David and Katie talk about task management systems got me thinking about how my system has evolved over time. One of the most common questions I hear from people who are interested in developing some sort of system to manage their work is whether they should go analog (paper, pencil, notebooks, folders, etc.) or digital (software, paperless, tablets, phones, etc.).

There's a certain concreteness, a solidity, to using an analog system. Shuffling papers, arranging notes, and actually manipulating physical material can be a great way to make your system feel more alive and personal. On the other hand, going digital means being able to handle more information more efficiently and being able to always have the entirety of your system close at hand. I used to agonize whether I'd be better off going full-digital or full-analog until I realized that was a stupid false dichotomy. I could, and should, do both.

The ultimate goal of any productivity or work management system should be tied to completing the work itself, not the details of how it's managed. Getting organized is a step on the path to doing meaningful work as well as living an overall more deliberate life. There are no style points to be won for sexy systems, no competitions for who can manage the most information, or who can have the cleanest all-digital or all-analog system. Liberating myself from the mindset that I had to choose one over the other allowed me to take the best from both worlds and craft a system that is intimately tied to the ways I like to think and work.

The Digital

My digital system allows me to capture information at will and with a minimum of effort or friction. It allows me to manage the influx of information that we all seem to have to deal with in a constantly connected world and a work life that never really seems to turn off. The digital components of my system include:

  • Capturing photos with my iPhone that are automatically sent to Evernote via IFTTT (receipts, reminders, paper notes, etc.).
  • Capturing thoughts, next actions, and ideas with the Things iOS app.
  • Using Evernote as a "digital filing cabinet" for storing all archived project materials as well as active reference material.
  • Using Gmail, archiving all emails, and trusting my ability to find anything I might need from my past with some simple searches.
  • Using Things to manage all my active and deferred projects, next actions, and someday/maybe ideas.
  • Using Fantastical to manage my calendar on my computer, iPhone, and iPad.
  • Using Dropbox to store active project documents (which are moved to Evernote once completed).

The digital component of my system allows me to be highly mobile and trust that I can do my work wherever I happen to be. The somewhat ephemeral nature of digital information also allows me to not worry about how much stuff I'm throwing at my system as it's easy to filter and search for what I need. If I were using a paper list to keep track of all my next actions I may be more hesitant to add something minor to it. By using Things I don't feel that hesitancy which allows me to be much more complete with the capture component of my organizational system.

The Analog

The characteristics that make my digital system awesome are also what makes it insufficient for a truly complete organizational system. Since it's so easy to throw a lot of information at it and store it in a simple way I have a ton of information in it. Having to look at my entire system every time I need to make a decision about what to do next would be an extremely draining system. That's one reason I've evolved the analog component of my system.

  • I create a daily index card that has my hard landscape responsibilities (primarily appointments and meetings with their requisite pre-work) written on it. At the start of the day I will also add 2-3 goals for what I want to accomplish today. This notecard is then clipped to the cover of the notebook I carry with me throughout the day.
  • I have a black notebook with perforated pages that I use to take notes throughout the day. At the end of the day I tear out the pages I used and throw them in my physical inbox for processing.
  • My physical inbox is the landing strip for all the physical pieces of information that come into my life. I'll empty the papers from my bag into it at the end of the day, snail mail, and any other physical items I need to process. The inbox gets processed every other day or so.
  • I have a black box with a handful of manila folders for storing my physical reference files. If I can I'll scan something and add it to Evernote but if it's something I feel like I should keep a physical copy of it goes in this box.
  • My whiteboard is attached to the wall next to my desk and it's where I keep some weekly, monthly, and longer term goals listed. I also use sticky tack to mount my pre-made daily index cards during my weekly review. I'll also use it for my first round of mind mapping when planning an article or other project (this article started as a mind map on my whiteboard).
  • I'm experimenting with keeping reusable paper checklists for daily, weekly, and monthly activities I know I want/need to complete. The monthly and weekly checklists are tacked to my whiteboard whereas the daily one usually just sits on my desk or is clipped to my notebook.

The analog component of my system allows me to focus in on a much smaller time frame. I'm able to see my daily goals and simply focus on those instead of having to constantly live inside my relatively massive digital system. It's kind of like going to the bank. I know I have more money than I actually need for the week or day in there so instead of carrying around my entire life savings I just withdraw what I need on a regular basis. My digital system is my bank with the entirety of my information living in it and I withdraw what I need into my analog system on a regular basis.

The linchpin to this system has always been my weekly review. With the weekly review installed into my routine I know that I can let go of my larger system and just focus on getting work done for seven days at a time. Regardless of what has changed in my life or the new information that has been thrown at me, I know I'll take a step back and reassess every week. This frees me up to not use mental cycles constantly thinking about the changes in my life or worrying about what I might be missing -- I know I'll take a look at the whole system soon enough.

If I had a straight analog system I'd worry that I wasn't keeping a truly complete collection of everything I have to do. If I had a straight digital system I'd be distracted by the sheer immensity of the information living in the system. By embracing both I've been able to create something that melds together the best of both.

Photos by Jens Schott Knudsen and Jenni C

The List #13

Since last week's List was a special positive-psychology edition a few of the articles I'm sharing this week are a little bit older. Doesn't mean they aren't awesome, though.

I also want to start casting my net a little bit wider when it comes to what I read on a regular basis so don't hesitate to share some of your favorite sources of reading in the comments or via Twitter.

Kick back with a cup of joe this weekend and enjoy some of my favorite articles from across the web.

America, Say Goodbye to the Era of Big Work - LA Times

I know this website does not appeal exclusively to independent workers -- and that's perfectly awesome. I'm interested in the idea of meaningful and engaging work regardless of the specific context. However, I do have a soft spot for articles about the growth of independent work as it is directly related to my academic/research interests.

The Strange and Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit - GQ

This is just one of the most interesting articles I've read in awhile. Fascinating story about a guy who lived in the wilderness for an insanely long time. There's something about the need for solitude somewhere in here as well. But mostly it's just a really interesting story.

Reboot or Die Trying - Outside

I'm a sucker for stories about people doing things to take deliberate control over the role technology plays in our lives. Between this and the Distraction Free iPhone article (which inspired one of my articles from earlier this week).

John Cage on the Necessity of Boredom - Cal Newport

I feel like every time Cal writes something on his site I end up sharing it here. Obviously, I'm a bit of a fan of the stuff Cal does and how he writes about it. This is a super short one, but it's a great reminder for anyone trying to do creative and meaningful work.

“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

Photo by Jason Thompson

How To Use Technology to Support Who You Want to Be

I'm tired of using the various technological tools in my life and feeling like I need to exert deliberate willpower to use them productively. Technology itself is amoral -- neither good nor bad. It's just a thing that amplifies whatever course of action or intention you bring to it. Our default mode of scattered attention directed is diffused like a beam of light through a pile of broken glass -- haphazard, chaotic, and incoherent. On the other hand, there's no reason that a more deliberate approach toward using our technology can't amplify those more positive and useful intentions as well.

Inspired by the Distraction Free iPhone idea I recently restructured what I see when I look at my phone. Before this experiment I had the apps I used most regularly be the most accessible ones. If my goal is efficiency then that makes perfect sense. Tweetbot, Instagram, and Facebook were all prominently displayed on the home screen. These apps don't represent the way I aspire to use my time -- just the way I currently use my time. If I found myself with a burst of motivation (like on the upswing of a productivity cycle) I still had to resist "just checking" those apps every time I looked at my phone because they were constantly being thrown in front of me. In a somewhat startling moment of clarity I realized I could rearrange my phone to push me toward the person I want to be instead of the person I was currently being (and I suppose if you're 100% happy with how you're currently behaving as a human being then this idea isn't for you).

The Aspirational Home Screen

Instead of putting the apps I used most often on my home screen I started putting the apps I wish I used more often. My home screen became representational of the person I want to be. The time sucks I mentioned before were deleted or moved to the depths of my phone and only the apps who pushed me to be a better person were left in the position of honor (i.e. the home screen). That means Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram were out and Instapaper, Oyster, Kindle, MapMyRun, Fitocracy, and Insight Timer are in. Now, when I look at my phone I'm presented with options for development instead of options for distraction. Is it a tiny change? Of course. However, this simple tweak is helping my use of technology become more mindful and more of a source of good in my life.

Using Technology for Personal Good

This basic idea can expand to other pieces of technology as well. What apps do you see when you turn on your computer? Does anything automatically open? Why not have the apps that support your growth as a human being be what you see immediately upon sitting in front of your computer instead of potential time sucks? Making Day One, Evernote, and Things open automatically has made me more likely to get to work instead of killing time when I turn on my computer and I've had the additional happy result of writing in my journal more than ever. Twitter used to automatically open when I turned on my computer but I realized that I wasn't gaining anything by having my attention immediately fought over between the forces of "good" (Day One, Evernote, Things, etc.) and the forces of "bad" (Twitter, Facebook, etc.).

Carrying the idea further, what apps are always visible on your desktop or dock? Why keep unopened apps that represent potential distraction somewhere you constantly keep seeing them? What benefit are you deriving from constantly fighting the urge to give into distraction (unless you're some kind of attention-based masochist, I suppose)? What do you see when you open a new tab or window in your browser? Why not have it open onto something that challenges you to be a better person? I currently have mine set to my Rescue Time dashboard instead of the Yahoo homepage that used to suck me into distressingly long sessions of reading asinine "news."

Notifications As An Ally

Turning off notifications is usually step 0 of any anti-distraction/pro-meaningful work treatise, but what about turning on notifications for apps or reminders that prompt you to improve yourself? I agree that email and Twitter notifications should be banished from anyone trying to do meaningful work, but I think we're throwing out the potential good of notifications with overly general advice. I love using the "schedule" feature of Things to remind myself to do things in the future that I would normally never remember (in fact, it's the cornerstone of my reflection habit). I love using reminders to prompt me to do a gratitude exercise, reach out to an old friend, or simply take a moment to get away from the computer and stretch my legs. The reminder to read through my journal to see what ideas are generated for personal/professional growth every 5 months has created more great projects than anything I've done and it's something I would never remember to do on my own.

I think you get the idea.

Simple Changes Can Make a Huge Impact

There are plenty of ways to let our technology scatter our attention in ways that don't support the people we want to be. Luckily, with just a little bit of deliberate thought, your phone, computer, and other technology can amplify your intentions instead of acting as an anchor slowing down your quest to do more meaningful work and live a more satisfying life.

Photo by Symo0

Weekend Reading #7

It's Friday afternoon and you're shutting it down for the weekend, right? Good. Throw these links into your read later app of choice (or bookmark them if you like to roll old school) and enjoy them over the weekend.

1. The End of the Day Philosophy - Zen Habits

"What are you going to do next, after reading this? Will you be happy with that, at the end of this day?"

Simple metric for deciding whether to do something. It's simple but not easy to actually successfully implement.

2. Swami Vivekananda on the Secret of Work: Intelligent Consolation for the Pressures of Productivity from 1896 - Brain Pickings

"Good and bad are both bondages of the soul… If we do not attach ourselves to the work we do, it will not have any binding effect on our soul… This is the one central idea in the Gita: work incessantly, but be not attached to it."

This article is crazy good. I haven't been in the habit of reading Brain Pickings so I don't know if this is an aberration or if I've just been missing out on tons of good stuff.

3. The Absolute Fastest Way to Remind Yourself to Follow Up on Something You Find On Your Phone - Less Doing

I used to think IFTTT was stupid. Then I started seeing examples of how people actually use it and I realized it could be super helpful. This is the first recipe I've seen in a long time that I've needed to steal for myself (although I modified it to send the screenshot to Evernote instead of my email). My specific recipe is embedded below.


IFTTT Recipe: Send a new iOS screenshot to Evernote connects ios-photos to evernote//ifttt.com/assets/embed_recipe.js

I hope you had a good week and if you enjoy what you're reading here I recommend you sign up for The Workologist monthly newsletter. It goes out on the first of every month and it always has an article with my best idea of the previous thirty days. You can also get every article I write here (three of them each week!) sent directly to your inbox if you check the box when signing up. I may be biased, but I think that's a pretty good idea.

Photo by Steve Corey

How To Use a Whiteboard to Stay Organized

After posting a picture of my newly constructed standing desk on Instagram a few weeks ago somebody asked me about how I use the whiteboard mounted behind the desk. I typed out a response but it was long and I had to skip over a lot of the details as to why I use my whiteboard the way I do. Needless to say, it needed an article-length response -- not a comment. Thus, here is my incredibly in-depth system for using a whiteboard that is mounted directly behind my desk.

The Main Areas

My whiteboard is broken into 6 main areas:

1. 3-4 month goals: These are the things I'm trying to accomplish over the next 3-4 months. Every week I should be making progress on at least 1 or 2 of these goals. They are updated at the end of the 3-4 month cycle.

2. Weekly hard landscape: This is a list of the appointments and meetings I have for the upcoming week along with the times at which they are happening. The only things that go on this list are activities where I'm expected to be somewhere or doing something at a specific time.

3. Weekly flex landscape: This is how I intend to spend the rest of my work week that isn't taken up with hard landscape activities. I estimate how long each task will take and write it next to the activity. I try not to schedule more than 7 hours between hard and flex activities each day because a.) I'd prefer not to work crazy hours if possible and b.) I need to leave flexibility in my schedule to respond to urgent requests.

4. Percolating projects: This is where I put projects I think I might want to start soon but I'm not 100% sure. At the very least I don't want them to disappear from my awareness so I stick them in the corner of the whiteboard and review them weekly.

5. Weekly goals: This is the criteria for whether or not I had a productive week. If I met my weekly goals then the mission was accomplished.

6. Motivational reminder: I like to stick some sort of pithy motivational reminder at the top of the whiteboard so I see it everyday. My current one (work = time spent x intensity) is courtesy of Cal Newport and has been up there for at least 3 or 4 months. It's a good reminder to not get sucked into the "hours worked = productivity" mindset.

How It Evolves Throughout the Week

I reset my whiteboard during my Weekly Review every Sunday afternoon. However, it's not that I only touch the whiteboard on a weekly basis. Instead, it's constantly evolving and changing based on how my week goes. First, I cross out hard landscape and flex items as I accomplish them. This gives me a nice sense of progress as I proceed through the week. If I don't get to a flex item on the day I scheduled it I'll often draw a box around it and put a star next to it. This lets me know that it's a day behind and I should probably get it done ASAP.

I try to avoid scheduling meetings and appointments for the week I'm currently in but sometimes it's inevitable. When that happens I'll write them into the hard landscape or draw arrows if something is being rescheduled within the week.

On the right hand side that is currently wide open I'll add urgent items with imminent deadlines. Sometimes someone will ask me to do something that isn't possible to have seen coming and scheduled into my weekly flex time. For example, sometimes a colleague will email me something to look at on Wednesday and they'd like to have my feedback by Friday. On the right hand side I'll often add a reminder to get that taken care of and will then cross it off once I finish it.

On Friday afternoon I'll take an index card and jot down the chores and activities I want to complete over the weekend. You may think this sounds way too structured when it comes to taking time to relax but I've found that my weekends are much more rejuvenating when I take a few minutes to think ahead and write down what I'd like to do. For example, last Friday I wrote down the titles of a couple magazines I wanted to read, a reminder to check out the video game I bought on sale earlier in the week, and a couple of life chores that I needed to get done (laundry and grocery shopping). I like writing this stuff on an index card because it can be kind of a pain to write that much stuff into the area I allot for Saturday and Sunday on the whiteboard itself. I'll then stick that index card near the bottom of the whiteboard with a magnet where Saturday and Sunday's hard landscape is written.

The Weekly Review

A significant portion of my Weekly Review is taken up a.) reviewing the previous week's completed whiteboard (what didn't get finished? did any hard landscape items get rescheduled to the upcoming week? did I make progress on any summer goals? did I meet my weekly goals? do I want to activate any percolating projects?) and resetting it for the upcoming week. Resetting the whiteboard consists of writing the hard landscape for the upcoming week, seeing how much time I have leftover after accounting for my hard landscape responsibilities (40 hours - time committed to hard landscape) and making a list of the other work I'd like to accomplish this week (the flex landscape). Then I try to slot that work into my available days in a logical way taking into consideration due dates, and amount of available time (i.e. don't schedule a bunch of writing tasks in a day where I have a bunch of hard landscape commitments). I round out prepping my whiteboard for the upcoming week by writing my 3-4 weekly goals in the bottom right corner.


Is this excessive? For me, no. Through months of trial and error I've refined this system to be as useful as possible for the way I work. I like being able to see my week at a glance in terms of meetings/appointments and the work I intend to do. I also like having the higher perspective areas (weekly goals, 3-4 month goals, percolating projects) that allow me to not get buried in the weeds and ensure I'm moving in the right direction.

Do you think something like this will work for you? If you give it a try I'd love to hear how it goes and if you have any questions feel free to drop a comment and I'll go into greater detail about anything I do here (and/or why).

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.

On Just Being 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?

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? 

Time Shift Your Day for Greater Productivity

One of the reasons I love technology so much is because it gives me greater control over how I allocate my time and attention.

Wait, what?

That doesn't sound right. Aren't I the guy constantly talking about how much of the technology we use today seems to be making us incapable of concentrating on anything and constantly pulling our attention to and fro? Doesn't the whole "productivity scene" generally admonish us to be careful about how we navigate this world of information overload and constant connection that is driving us to distraction and unhealthy work habits?

While it may be true that aspects of our society and the technology that pervades it can make it hard to focus and do truly high quality work, there are components of it that are excellent tools for improving how we use our time.

Time-shifting is probably most commonly discussed in terms of television and the growth of TiVo/DVR. It refers to the ability to record live television and then play it back at your convenience. However, this basic concept can be expanded beyond the realm of TV and the living room. I'm a huge proponent in time shifting everything I possibly can because it allows me to take control over what I give my attention to and at what time. Without it, I'd constantly be at the whim of other people -- people who don't necessarily care about my goals and dreams for the future and therefore wouldn't be making decisions based on what's best for me.

Additionally, time shifting everything I can allows me to save certain activities for certain energy levels. It's a complete mismatch and inefficient use of my mental resources to do something that doesn't require much creative thinking or mental power when I'm feeling energized and creative. On the flip side, it's equally a waste of time to be forced to do something that requires me to operate on a high mental level when my brain is just completely fried. Time shifting unlocks the puzzle pieces that allow me to fit everything together in a much more logical way.

Here's what I time shift:

  1. Small tasks: I like to save up small tasks that are similar to each other instead of doing them throughout the day. For example, I'm constantly throwing ideas and snippets of thought into my task management software inbox throughout the day. I could immediately file them into the correct projects or Evernote notebooks but instead I choose to wait until the end of the day. It doesn't require a lot of thought to do this filing so I'd rather do it at the end of the day when I'm already tired instead of potentially interrupting myself doing something creative or difficult (like writing this article).
  2. Most TV: I already don't watch a lot of TV but the little bit I do I use streaming services so I can watch at the most opportune time for me, not when the networks decide to air it. The idea of letting a television studio decide when my leisure time is going to be is pretty repulsive. Luckily, I don't care about seeing things the moment they come out so I'm comfortable being a little bit behind until I can catch something on my schedule.
  3. Email: Email is usually a task that doesn't require deep thought or creative thinking so I'm careful to not let it creep into the times of day when I'm at my best. I want to save those times for writing, coaching, and other highly taxing tasks. Email can be saved for lower energy times. I also like to batch together emails I have to write and send them off together. In order to do this, I make sure I don't have any kind of notification active that alerts me to when new email comes in. I know I'll get to it in a couple hours and try to keep my focus on the work at hand.
  4. Reading news: I use Instapaper to save articles from the internet that I'd like to read later. People are constantly suggesting different things I should read throughout the day and it wouldn't make sense for me to read all of them the moment they are recommended. By using a read-it-later service I can shift my article reading to a time that makes more sense. I usually do most of my reading with Instapaper on the weekend or during breaks in my work.
  5. Social media: Instead of letting Facebook and Twitter notify me all day long I make it a point to only check them a couple times each day. That way I don't let them sneak into my most productive hours and I have something I can do when I'm feeling mentally fried. The idea that an acquaintance from high school could potentially interrupt my work with an update about what he had for lunch is insane. There is no reason to have notifications like that on.

Technology allows us to take the formerly static pieces of our day and adjust them more to our own liking. It allows us to personalize where and when our attention is shifted over the course of the day. Think carefully about whether you're making conscious decisions about when you do certain things or whether you're letting other people or companies decide where your attention is placed. Attention is the single most precious resource you have -- you're the one who should be in charge of it.

Photo by Stefan

Video Games Have Flow Figured Out

I'm learning more about myself just by paying attention to how I feel in certain situations. I've recently realized that I'm drawn to activities and programs that focus on small, incremental steps of improvement. Let me share some recent examples.

I've started a bodyweight conditioning program that focuses on 6 major "master moves" (such as handstand pushups, one armed pushups and other insanely difficult things to do). Right now the thought of doing any of these master moves is downright farcicical. However, each move has been broken down into 10 intermediate steps that build on each other. The first step to doing one armed pushups, for example, is simply doing pushups leaning against a wall. And then leaning against a table. And then kneeling pushups -- and so on. The program specifically tells you to start at the beginning even if you can succesfully complete later steps. The focus is on building the body awareness, joint/ligament strength, and mental strength necessary to do the later moves. I've really enjoyed it because I have smaller goals to shoot for (each intermediate step) and I can see physical evidence of getting stronger when I'm able to complete more reps than I did last time.

Another recent example comes from a much less productive aspect of my life. I've recently been playing some video games (Starcraft 2 *ahem*) that have various "achievements" that are earned for doing things within the game. Although I've already "beaten" the game I've been playing recently, I've started going through and earning the various achievements that I didn't get the first time through. It's kind of silly how good it feels to complete an achievement and be able to scratch it off my list (this same feeling probably partially explains the rush I get when I finish something on a to-do list).

Two other websites I've been using for personal development, Duolingo and Khan Academy, also use the achievement model for tracking progress. It's nice to be able to look back and see how far I've come and to know precisely what is ahead of me. Even the website I use to track my workouts, Fitocracy, uses the achievement model. This idea of instant feedback, which is essentially what you get by earning or not earning an achievement, is the core basis for the success of this model. It makes sense when you look atCsikszentmihalyi's research on flow, as well.

One of the required components of experiencing flow is constant and immediate feedback. Video games provide this by the level of success you're experiencing in the game. Almost anybody who enjoys playing video games will tell you it's incredibly easy to fall into a flow state while playing them. A lot of times, though, it can be harder to find flow in things that are less "fun". I've been finding myself finding flow a lot more often recently and I think it's partially because of these services I've been using that provide feedback in a more visual way. Fitocracy gives me points and gives me badges when I work out. I can log in and see how far I've come in my physical strength. When I'm studying French in Duolingo I'm more likely to stick with a study session for longer if I'm at a point where I'm close to moving on to the next "level". In my bodyweight workout routine I can see where I am in the progression to "mastery" and I know exactly whether I'm moving forward or not.

There's a lot to be said for this video game model of achievement and progress tracking. There are even some apps that try to take this concept and apply it to traditional to-do lists. I haven't found one that really does it well, yet. Ideally, I could give my to-do list to a program, it'd automatically break up larger projects into smaller chunks, and would provide me with achievements like, "Write for 20 minutes 3 days in a row," or, "Make 5 phone calls in 2 days," or other goofy things like that. It seems silly, but turning my productivity into more of a game and harnessing the idea that immediate feedback helps facilitate flow could be prety huge.

It's something I'm going to keep playing with in the future and I'd love to hear any thoughts about what you do to keep yourself engaged with your work.

 

My Forthcoming Digital Sabbatical

In twenty four hours I leave for vacation with my family in rural western Kentucky. Every year we visit my grandparents and extended family. It’s a week filled of delicious Southern food, fishing, reading, and laying by the pool.

In the past it has also been a week where technology took a backseat in my life. When I didn’t have a cell phone the only technology I regularly interfaced with was the occasional movie or television show. Once I got a cell phone I still wasn’t able to use it very much because the reception used to be terrible out there. However, in the past couple years our trip to Kentucky hasn’t been much different from being at home. My grandparents have cable television, my cousins who live next door have wireless internet and a computer, the campground my grandparents have a permanent camper at has wireless internet and proper cell reception now, too. If I want to, I can bring my computer and not really experience anything very different from life at home. In the past, I’ve done exactly that.

This year, however, I'm leaving my computer at home. I just deleted all the social apps on my iPhone and disconnected my email account from it. I’m taking a long overdue proper digital sabbatical.

I’ve covered both extremes of connectivity in the last year. For approximately eight months I did not have home internet service or an iPhone. If I wanted to use the internet I had to go to Starbucks, the library, or somewhere with public wi-fi. It was probably one of the most productive times of my life. However, I eventually got to the point where I constantly had my iPod Touch with me so I could check my email or check Twitter if I happened to come across some wi-fi in my daily travels. I didn’t like the feeling of being constantly on the lookout for my next “internet fix.”

In January I happened to land a long term substitute teaching job so I decided I’d get internet service in my apartment. I didn’t want to be relegated to planning my lessons only at school or the library (in hindsight, I probably should have). After months of not having any internet service I was like a starving person at a buffet. I gorged myself on information.

Then I got an iPhone. It was essentially a free upgrade from my previous cell phone so I decided to jump on the bandwagon approximately three years late. Don’t get me wrong, I love my iPhone. I also hate it. It’s a complex relationship.

Lately, I’ve realized that I spend way too much time and attention checking email, Twitter, Google+, Facebook etc. It’s a cyclical struggle that I’m currently in the midst of losing. The problem is that my email account brings me good information (e-book sales!), bad information (mean people), opportunities (contribute to my project!) and entertainment (lol that kitten tripped). Much the same could be said for Facebook or any of the other social networks I engage with.

That’s not going to fly much longer though. I’m deadest on developing my ability to focus effectively. I’m not going to let my lack of focus effect how well I do in grad school. I’m not going to become like the vast majority of the people in my generation and lose the ability to focus intently on one project or task for a long period of time. I don’t need the crutch of an iPhone and constant connectivity to bring interest to my life. I can be the source of entertainment, intrigue, and engagement. I don’t need external forces to push me along through life.

So, spending a week without any of that is good for me. I’m concentrating on reconnecting with myself and not the internet. I love you guys and the work you do, but when I try to take all of it in it starts to feel the same. I need to step back and reconsider my relationship with information.

For the next week I’m going to have my Kindle, a couple regular books, my journal, and my pen. I’m going to read silly fantasy books, write about whatever catches my attention and be ok with the fact that my inbox is filling up with good news, bad news, and indifferent news. I’m going to be ok with the fact that you guys are tweeting without me, sharing awesome things, and generally carrying on just fine.

If you've thought about taking a digital sabbatical before maybe it's time you bit the bullet and make it happen. It seems scary. When I get back I'll write a complete reflection on how my digital sabbatical went.

If previous experience is any measure I think I'm going to be wondering what took me so long to finally do this again.

Why I'm Re-opening My Facebook Account

I’m going to write something that may get me branded as a hypocrite. Being afraid of hypocrisy as a writer or leader is just a recipe for never growing or evolving. I am constantly trying to improve myself and the way I look at the world. Believe it or not, Younger Sam did not have all the answers. And thus, sometimes Now Sam has to look like a bit of a hypocrite because of it.

One of the most popular articles I’ve written on this blog was published on January 1st of this year. It was about my decision to delete my Facebook account. Since that time I’ve been living Facebook-less in the land of Mr. Zuckerberg. I’ve gotten more comments from people regarding my lack of Facebook than I have about any of the other “weird” things I’ve done like become a vegetarian, do digital fasts, live as a minimalist, etc.

I won’t rehash all of my reasons for deleting my Facebook account because you can very easily read the articlehere. I’ve enjoyed my time without Facebook, I really have. I’ve connected with people, I’ve eliminated a distraction (albeit, it was always a minor one for me) and shown the world that it is possible to function without a Facebook account.

But something has been bothering me.

I had a hockey coach that used to love telling us, “It’s not the tools, it’s the carpenter,” (And evidently I've written about this particular saying before). Every time we skated off the ice and blamed our stick or any piece of equipment for an errant pass or a mistake, he was always quick to whip out this phrase. Young hockey players love to talk about the newest stick that will make us all all-stars or the brand new skates that will let us skate like the wind. Whenever Coach overheard us he’d always say, “It’s not the tools, it’s the carpenter.” Yeah, okay Coach, now watch me snipe with my new stick.

“It’s not the tools, it’s the carpenter.”

I can’t help but feel that deleting my Facebook account is focusing on the tools at the expense of the carpenter. A good carpenter can use all of his tools efficiently and precisely for their purpose. A good carpenter doesn’t care about the tools that he uses because he knows his skill is what sets him apart. I’ve been a shitty carpenter recently. It’s like I’ve refused to take the screwdriver out of my toolbox because I’m “not very good at it.”

Facebook is a tool that has no inherent value until somebody gives it value. A shovel just laying on the ground doesn’t do a damn thing until somebody picks it up and starts using it for what it’s made to do. If they’re good at using a shovel, if they have the proper technique, then they’ll have an awesome hole in no time (and who doesn’t love digging holes?) If they suck at using the shovel, the logical thing to do is to learn how to use it better. You don’t see many people foregoing all future use of shovels because they aren’t very good at shovels right now.

I used to suck at Facebook. I might still suck at Facebook. But deleting my Facebook account is like refusing to use a shovel because I don’t understand how to use it.

I’d much rather focus on improving my own skills, my own carpentry, then winnowing down my toolbox.

So I guess that means I’m reopening my Facebook account. I’ve got some plans about how to use it better. I’m sure it will be a learning process. But I’m finally taking my coach’s advice to heart, I may not be the greatest at using Facebook well but I’m not going to let that keep me from being a better carpenter.

 

 

Old-Fashioned Augmented Humanity

One of the biggest names in minimalist blogging, Everett Bogue, has caused quite the brouhaha recently due to the change in focus of his writing. His talk of "cyborgs" and "augmented humanity" has turned a lot of people off. I'm not going to offer a critique of his new focus because, frankly, that's none of my business. I actually think it's great for a writer to evolve and grow. It's the only thing that keeps us interesting as creative people. However, I do want to offer a counterpoint to the concept of augmented humanity that he writes about.

The basic premise is that the always-connected nature of our relationship with the internet through software such as Twitter is allowing us to become something more than what we were in the past. I don't dispute that being able to connect with people, instantly, across the globe has some serious ramifications for the way ideas spread and evolve. We live in an exciting time of technological advancement and achievement. However, I have an issue with turning my attention to external factors, primarily technology, when I feel like I am light years away from where I personally want to be.

Let's slow down for a second.

I worry that we are looking to technology to fill in the gaps of our consciousness instead of looking within ourselves for improvement. When I think of augmented humanity, I envision an individual who has so thoroughly mastered the art of being human that the only chance for growth lies in the adoption of technology -- of becoming a "cyborg." Again, I don't doubt that technology is allowing us to become so much more than we have been in the past. But, maybe it's the history teacher inside me that constantly looks to examples of our past and sees remarkable people that accomplished incredible things without Twitter, without cell phones, without the internet, and without becoming a cyborg. I look to those examples as I try to become more than I currently am, not technology.

What might old-fashioned augmented humanity look like?

Where can we look for improvement before we embrace technological augmentation? Surely adoption of brand new technology is not the answer to self-improvement?

MASTERY OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Regaining consciousness means knowing why I act, think, and believe what I do. It's about making decisions and living my life in a way that is aligned with my values and NOT the external decision makers, like advertisement, that barrage me. I need to be able to take multiple information streams and synthesize them with my own self-determined values to decide what I truly believe. Too many people are content to give up their consciousness for the relative ease of letting others live their lives for them.

I firmly and truly believe that the more people strive to live consciously the more we will see the great social ills of our time be solved. A world full of people asking themselves what they truly believe and whether their actions are consistent with those beliefs will result in greater responsibility across the board. This isn't an easy thing to do and it requires a constant and concerted effort. Every aspect of our lives, from what we eat, the work we do, and the relationships that we have need to be addressed in turn as we increase our consciousness. It is a whole body and whole mind effort.

MASTERY OF FOCUS

I see this in myself and my students everyday; our ability to focus on one thing at a time is quickly becoming eradicated. The pull on our attention comes from everywhere and anywhere all at once. The ability to sit quietly and truly focus on one thing is a skill that very few people still have. And yet, the ability to focus for long periods of time is one of the most important factors to creating great work. It isn't good enough to spread your attention as thin as next year's laptop anymore. If you want to rise above the noise then you must be able to eliminate distractions and focus at the expense of staying ever connected.

I look back to history with a twinge of jealousy as I read accounts of how Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Edison worked. They didn't have to face the never ending ping of incoming emails, text messages, or Twitter updates. And yet, nearly do you or I. We can turn off notifications, we can download software that blocks distracting websites and we can train ourselves to focus like the heroes of the past.

BECOMING AUTOTELIC

A person who is autotelic is able to find enjoyment in anything. An autotelic activity is something you do just for the sake of doing it. You aren't looking for external rewards or recognition. Developing an autotelic personality is quite possibly the ultimate end of old-fashioned augmented humanity. Try to imagine how you felt the last time you truly got "lost" in an activity. Time flew by, you felt engaged, challenged and you were operating at the peak of your abilities. You can train yourself to enter this state of flow at will with practice.

Mastering flow, or optimal experience, allows you to enjoy every aspect of your life. From the most mundane to the most exciting, you have complete control over your emotions and attitude. There are powerful examples of prisoners of war or explorers struggling under intense conditions that have been able to train their minds, to master their environment so completely, that they report levels of happiness that some millionaires only dream of. This level of super-humanness is equally as exciting as any purported benefit of technological augmented humanity. It doesn't take Twitter or the internet for you to learn how to enter the flow state in work, at play with your friends or family, or working on some other difficult task.

EMBRACING OUR HUMANITY

The purpose of this article is not to tear down Everett's theories of augmented humanity. In fact, I think using technology to help people become more than they currently are is an admirable goal. Using technology intelligently is an important skill that is only going to gain importance as time marches forward.

However, I'm afraid that we're jumping into the future without having a strong base to work off. Most people have not even scratched the surface of what they're capable of without the use of technology. Mastering our consciousness lets us become the masters of our own lives. Mastering the ability to focus allows us to create work that will change the world. And mastering flow makes us an active part in every aspect of life, regardless of how others perceive it. I'll spend my time focusing on these components of humanity first. Then, if I ever feel like I'm ready, I'll investigate becoming a cyborg.

Like a cheesy sci-fi movie, the cyborg built on the strength of humanity will beat the cyborg tricked out with the latest technological innovations any day.

 

 

On Blogging Without The Internet

I've been a semi-professional blogger for awhile now and I haven't had internet access at my home for the last 9 months. Every time I mention this little factoid jaws seem to go slack and eyes get a little hazy. The follow up question is invariably something along the lines of, "Whaa...how?" or "Why would you do that to yourself?" A blogger without access to the internet -- is that really as strange as it sounds?

Here's what I've learned from 9 months of limited internet access and why I decided to get service last week.

  1. Blogging is done 98% offline anyway: First and foremost, I'm a writer. The internet just happens to be where I post my finished product. Writing is done most efficiently (for me at least) offline.
  2. My willpower was never even brought into the question: When I woke up in the morning I didn't have to exercise any willpower to not check my email or go waste time on Twitter. It wasn't even an option so I didn't have to worry about it. As a side effect, I've noticed my willpower has atrophied a little bit when it comes to regulating my internet access.
  3. My limited time online was usually very focused: I got in the habit of making lists of things I needed to do when I had access to the internet. Most of the time I only had an hour or two of access at a time so I had to make sure I got everything done that I had on my lists. This resulted in me using my time pretty effectively most of the time.
  4. I was always on the prowl for access: This is the main reason I decided to get internet access in my apartment. I always had my iPod Touch with me and was constantly on the lookout for free wi-fi. Since I never knew when my next chance to access the internet would be, I became obsessed with looking for access. This started to really bother me when I caught my social habits being affected. I began taking my iPod Touch with me anywhere and everywhere. That constant uncertainty was making me a pain to be around, I'm sure.
  5. I became Starbuck's bitch: "Tall bold, please." I said this so, so many times over the past few months. Starbucks has free internet (as long as you purchase a drink) so I found myself spending many a hour sipping a delicious coffee and using their wi-fi. I told myself that I was saving money by not paying for access to the internet, but when it comes down to it I was probably only saving $15 a month, tops.

I liked the productivity that not having home access to the internet gave me but I hated always being on the lookout for it as well. When I got my full-time long-term substitute teaching job I decided it was probably time to get the internet in my apartment. I wanted to be able to do research and preparation for my lessons on my own time and without having to drop $1.59 on a drink.

Now that I've re-entered the world of the connected, I'm very cognizant of not falling into bad habits. Just like you can't give a ton of food to a starving person without them throwing up, I'm afraid that my mind is going to throw up when it suddenly has access to the internet almost 24 hours a day after going without for so long.

It'll be an interesting case study in my own discipline and habits.

Have you lived without access to the internet for long periods of time? How did you feel about it? I'd love to hear your story in the comments.

 

 

Why I'm Deleting My Facebook Account

I decided to start the New Year with a metaphorical bang. I've neglected to share the details of my life over the past couple months and I think it has made my writing quite dry. I know you aren't here to read about the intimate details of my life, but let's face it, anybody can write "how to" posts about living simpler. The interest lies when people add their own twists to run-of-the-mill information and when they share how it is affecting their life.

I will be posting this on Facebook, and then deleting (or locking down) my account.

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

I'M DELETING MY FACEBOOK ACCOUNT BECAUSE I AM WEAK.

I allowed it to trick me into thinking 1,000 Facebook friendships are suitable replacements for 10 real relationships. I've been lulled into the false sense of security that tells me because I can instantly communicate with all the people in my life, I don't need to right now. Not talking to you right now, even though I could, has turned into not talking to you for 6 months. And then a year. And then two years.

Facebook has become much less about communicating meaningfully with people and much more about knowing what everyone is doing. And it's not you, it's me. I like scrolling through my updates and seeing what you did yesterday, how your finals are going, or whether it's snowing where you are. I don't know why I do this, but I've come to terms with the fact that none of this matters. What you're actually doing, thinking, feeling, and fearing right now is not being portrayed by the lyrics in your status update.

I care about you as a person and for me, Facebook is becoming extremely adept at removing your humanity. Instead, you are just another line of information in an endlessly updating stream flowing in front of my eyes as cheap entertainment. I don't want that and you don't want that.

This isn't about you, it's about my own inability to filter the information that comes into my life. I face too much of it on a day to day basis and it dilutes and distracts me from the things that really matter. Deleting my Facebook account is only the first step in a larger movement toward becoming more conscious of how I spend my time and attention.

It's about being okay with less. With less information and less distraction. About eliminating the low-impact streams of information in favor of making time for what truly matters.

No, I won't be checking your status or updating my own anymore, but I will be calling you and asking if you want to grab a coffee sometime soon. I won't "like" that funny video you posted on somebody's wall but I will be writing you an email or a letter. I won't be able to play Farmville with you, but I will want to get together and play some video games sometime. All I know is that I need more face to face, and less text to text, time with the important people in my life.

I've got a list of people that aren't going to really be affected by whether I have a Facebook account. We're still going to talk and see each other and the world will continue to spin.

I have another list of people that I'm going to make a more conscious effort to contact more often. These are the people who I need to make a concerted effort to make a larger part of my life. If I'm a part of that second list for you, I'd love if you'd send me an email or give me a call sometime. If you don't know me particularly well but think that you'd like to, please, please, please contact me via email, Skype, Twitter, or phone.

Our technological world is becoming more and more impersonal. This is my small act of defiance, of rebellion, toward a world of more personal connections. I see the irony that a service meant to draw people closer together has not done that for me and yet, I'm okay with it.

In fact, I feel better already.

Is Facebook replacing heartfelt and personal relationships for you?

Earning Achievements in You: The Videogame

It used to be that just reaching the end of a video game was enough. After hours of playing and working your way through different and progressively harder levels, you'd finally reach the end. In a climactic battle against the gnarliest boss you've encountered in the entire game you would finally reach the end and could set down your controller with a sigh of relief. You have beaten it, and you are the master.

Today's video games, however, don't settle for letting you merely beat the game. You're welcome to play through the story line and reach the conclusion, but that's not where the real fun hides any more. Instead, video games today have what are known as Achievements. Each game comes with a different set of unique Achievements that encourage you to spend time playing the game in a different way than you normally would. Essentially, they are little trophies for accomplishing certain things within a game. For example, I recently bought Starcraft 2 (it's about time, Blizzard!) and have attained Achievements for killing a certain number of units in a limited amount of time, for executing certain aspects of the game very quickly, for progressing the storyline forward in the campaign mode and many other actions. There are probably a hundred more that I have not even begun working on yet-- but I plan on it. It adds an interesting dynamic and a ton of replay value when you have something to work toward other than just "finishing" the game.

WHY AM I WRITING ABOUT VIDEO GAMES ON A PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT BLOG?

I've recently realized that I have taken the concept of video game Achievements and applied them to my own development. Instead of just mindlessly rushing through life to get to the end, like an old school video game, I've been taking time to accomplish interesting and unique things on the side. If you could take a look at my Sam: The Video Game Achievement Showcase, you'd see the following:

  1. The "Go Vegetarian for a Week" Achievement
  2. The "Completely Disconnected Weekend" Achievement
  3. The "Complete a Duathlon" Achievement
  4. The "Travel to a Foreign Country" Achievement

In addition to these already accomplished achievements, I'm working on a couple more:

  1. The "Re-read all of the Lord of the Rings books" Achievement
  2. The "Write a 2nd Ebook" Achievement
  3. The "1/2 Marathon" Achievement

Video games aren't the greatest way to spend leisure time but they have at least encouraged me to spend time away from the beaten path and to try new ways of doing things.

What achievements have you earned in You: The Video Game? What ones are you working toward? Share in the comments!

 

Three Ways to Take Control of Information Overload

Imagine that you have a small and dainty tea cup in your hands. You are extremely thirsty and would love to fill your cup with some nice, cool, and refreshing water. Luckily, a nice young man with a fire hose happens to be with you (a convenient situation indeed). He kindly offers to fill your cup with water and you are nearly giddy with excitement. He turns the valve on the nozzle as you hold your tea cup at the ready.

A blast of icy water erupts from the hose and nearly knocks you on your back. Your tea cup flies out of your hands and shatters on the sidewalk. You're still thirsty but now you're also dazed, sore, and wet.

This is how I feel about the Internet.

My RSS feed, my Twitter timeline, Facebook status updates, and a never ceasing flow of email all serve as the high pressure hose to my mind's dainty tea cup. I crave information like my fictional character craved water. However, the sheer volume and velocity of content makes it nearly impossible to actually get anything worthwhile in my tea cup of a mind.

This can't continue much longer. How much sense would it make to get back up, dripping and aching, glue my teacup back together, and tap the man with the hose on the shoulder and ask for more. How many times do we get knocked down by the information wave only to get up and ask for more?

I can't do it anymore and here's how I'm getting control.

  1. Living in an apartment with no Internet or TV: I recently moved to a very small apartment that currently has no Internet connection. I could probably rectify that situation but I've actually discovered that I like it. I live close enough to a public library with free wi-fi that I can still connect if there is something I really need to check.
  2. Reducing my RSS feed count by 80%: Lately I've found myself just skimming articles in my feed reader because I'm overwhelmed by how much there is to read. People work hard creating this content and I'm not giving it the attention it deserves. I'm going to ruthlessly cull the number of sites I follow so that I can actually take the time to digest what I read.
  3. Using Instapaper for anything that looks interesting: Instapaper lets me read content on my terms. Especially with limited access to the Internet, I don't want to be wasting time online reading things that I can easily take with me when I log off.

There is just too much excellent information to absorb out there and I don't think I'm doing anybody justice by trying to catch bits and pieces of it as it goes whirling by. I'd much rather fill my tea cup from a small pitcher of delicious lemonade and enjoy it at my leisure.

Do you feel overwhelmed by the amount of information you face everyday? What are you doing about it?