I Just Followed You Again And I Promise I’m Not Crazy

If you’re a friend of mine you may think I’m a little crazy. If you get notifications when someone follows you on social media, particularly Twitter or Instagram, you may wonder if I’ve lost my marbles. Every couple of months you may notice that I’ve once again re-followed you for the second or fourth or tenth time (it depends how long we’ve known each other).

I’m not trying to get your attention or elicit a re-follow or send any message of any kind. What’s actually going on is that you just passed the relatively extreme filter I use when it comes to my social media lists.

Well, when I put it that way it makes it sound like I have some kind of sophisticated system or algorithm I run to create the most impactful, useful, and interesting social media feeds. That would be pretty far from the truth. What actually happens is that I generally start with a pretty small group of core people I enjoy or I think post interesting things that I like to follow (folks like yourself, obviously). However, over time I keep adding more and more folks to my lists. I follow a little bit more indiscriminately. I get an itchy follow finger, basically.

And then one day I wake up full of self-loathing for how little creative output I’ve had or how deep into a procrastination hole I’ve fallen and I look around for the quickest fix that will give me some immediate psychological relief. Given my minimalist tendencies and proclivity for extreme behavior in that direction, that often means wiping all my social media accounts clean. Back to zero. All gone.

And that feels good for a couple days or a couple weeks.

But then I realize that my lack of creative output or deep procrastination had very little to do with my social media accounts and I feel the void that they were filling in my life (social connection with real people, a steady stream of interesting and relevant content, the occasional easy, breezy entertainment, etc.) and I decide to start using them again. And then I start re-following folks.

And that’s how we get to where I feel the need to write an article about why I just re-followed you for the ninth time.

I try to write everyday. This is part of that. Have a thought? Tweet me, yo.

In Which I Have To Critique One Of My Intellectual Heroes: Or, Why Cal Newport Is Wrong

I’m a huge fan of Cal Newport’s writing. I read Deep Work the day it came out from cover to cover in less than a day. I read it four times in total in 2016. I’ve read So Good They Can’t Ignore You twice and have given it as gifts to multiple younger brothers and friends. I think his take on the deliberate cultivation of attention management skills is generally on point and a voice of reason in a very noisy world. I’m a huge fan of the digital minimalism idea he espouses and I think I would be a much more creative and productive individual if I could internalize more of his ideas.

However, I think I’m starting to see the limits of Cal’s experience as an academic in his writing about how work is done in the corporate world.

In his latest article, “An Early 20th Century Lesson on the Difference Between Convenience and Value” he shares a story about how the Pullman Company improved productivity by making it more difficult to communicate and coordinate across the organization. The ultimate “turns out” (“Everything you thought about a thing is actually wrong!”) story in a world that’s rife with email and Slack and instant messages, right?

It’s dangerous to take this story too literally or extrapolate it too far.

Much of the work I do at The Ready is helping organizations understand that they aren’t in the early 20th century anymore. The world in which the Pullman Company operated in the early 1900s is so radically different from today and extrapolating elements of their organizational operating system into our own organizations (organizations that probably aren’t manufacturing luxury train cars) should be taken with a huge grain of salt. Communication doesn’t need to be fluid in an organization where the economic forces aren’t as radical or rapidly changing as they are today (e.g. no Internet, less globally intertwined supply chains, less globalization, slower pace of business overall, etc.). The challenges organizations face today are often caused by broken communication. Departments that ought to be working together in tight cross-functional teams instead exist in functional silos that never talk to each other. Complex questions and conversations that many could value from are locked into individual’s inboxes — potentially useful information locked away in email purgatory.

In complex organizations its impossible to always know who specifically needs to know what piece of information so instead we push our clients to “default to open” and “work in public” and move their informational ecosystem to one where people can pull information as needed instead of being bombarded with an information avalanche. For all its faults, Slack and other tools like it can help enable these shifts in working that weren’t needed in the early 20th century but are allowing the firms of the 21st century to cope and thrive in a thoroughly VUCA world.

We should all continue taking Cal’s attention management advice on the individual level but we should also be wary about taking over simplistic views about what it means to work together in the 21st century. There’s a certain romance and elegance to looking at how things used to be done and applying those lessons to how we work today. And in some cases, there are valid ideas we should reinstate. But it’s important to remember that the business world of today looks very different from the business world of 100 years ago.

In many cases, the organizations who are upgrading their organizational operating systems are the ones navigating this uncertain and complex world better than those who are locked in the past.

Every day I try to come up with something insightful to say, write it, and publish it in less than 30 minutes. This was today’s effort. Have feedback? Leave a comment below or get at me on Twitter.

Is Your Organization Amazon-Proof?

If there’s one thing organizations need to take away from the recent Amazon acquisition of Whole Foods, it’s that everything can change in an industry in an instant. Last year’s strategic plan and budget can suddenly seem like relics of the past when something fundamentally shifts in a market and competitive landscape. All organizations need operating systems optimized for the kind of uncertain world where an online retailer/internet infrastructure provider/media company can buy one of the largest players in groceries. To live in a world where the unexpected becomes commonplace, organizations need operating systems where responsiveness, fluidity, and innovation are baked into just “how we do things around here.”

Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the reality for most.

How many orgs can absorb a shockwave like Amazon moving firmly into their market and feel confident that they have the processes, people, and policies that will allow them to do what needs to be done to adjust accordingly? Not many. Too many organizations are reliant on a single charismatic leader or a cabal of executives that are somehow supposed to guide the organization through tumult they never even saw coming and are left as surprised as everyone else. Does that fill you with confidence?

Great organizations have flexibility and resilience and responsiveness baked into every fiber of their being. Their hiring processes optimize for people with the right mindset. Their resource allocation processes remain flexible (i.e. not locked into annual cycles). They build teams that come together around solving real problems regardless of organizational hierarchy or politics. They push trust and autonomy to the edges of the organization so that decisions can be made quickly and those who are closest to the customers have the greatest ability to do what’s needed to be done to make or keep those customers happy.

It’s a fundamental shift from how most organizations think about themselves and how they show up in the world.

It’ll be interesting to watch as the volatility inevitably continues to increase. More Amazon/Whole Foods-scale acquisitions, more unpredictable sociopolitical events, and more, “What the hell is happening?” moments will start to separate the orgs who get it from the ones who don’t. The orgs who try to retrench and consolidate power will find themselves brittle and at risk. The orgs who embrace the unpredictable nature of the world and build the capabilities into their system, even if that looks messy or inefficient or unorganized — those are the orgs that will own the future.

I love that my job is helping organizations get ready for that future.

I try to write something (moderately insightful) every day in 30 minutes or less. Have a comment or question? Catch me on Twitter.

Making a Weekly Personal Metrics Spreadsheet

The times where I collected the most data about my life were not necessarily the times where I felt like I was making the most interesting insights about my life. Said another way, more data doesn’t always mean more better conclusions. Ahem. Something like that.

For the past year or so I’ve adhered to a pretty simple weekly habit that has made my efforts to quantify aspects of my life so much more useful. I call it my Weekly Personal Metrics spreadsheet.

1f99a-1dpgzijnkw7-m0xeqrirxog@2x.jpeg

The problem it’s trying to solve is — in a world of lots of data easily collected, how do you even remember what you’re tracking, let alone actually remember to go look at it and see if you can glean any insights? In a perfect world all of the interesting data I want to collect would be done so passively and a smart app or operating system would crunch it and feed me interesting tidbits (yes, I know Exist.io and Addapp exist but I have found them…. wanting).

The simple trick is to sit down once a week and collect all my various data points and manually add them to a simple spreadsheet. Then, I can look at them and compare them against the previous week (which is what I do most often and where the red/green cell colors come from). If I was more industrious I could make all sorts of visualizations to show how I’m doing on the various metrics I’m tracking (that might be an end of year project actually).

This simple little addition to my weekly routine has actually been pretty great. It helps me notice when I’m letting things spin out of control (I’m looking at you Sleep and Weight) and make changes before things get totally out of hand. It lets me really lean into as many passive sources of data collection as possible because instead of just letting them slip away into the ether I know I’m going to extract everything once a week.

I’ll go into more depth about why I track what I track in a future article. For now, you’ll just have to be happy with the nuts and bolts of setting up a Weekly Personal Metrics spreadsheet.

Making your own is as simple as figuring out a.) what’s important enough (or easy enough) to track? b.) when will you update it? That’s about it. Find important things that are easy to track (sleep is a good starting point if you have an Apple Watch and weight is kind of a no-brainer if you have a scale) and once a week pull the data into a spreadsheet. Do that every week for a long time and you’ll start to see the patterns emerge.

This is part of my semi-regular* series where I conceive of an article idea, write it, edit it, and publish it in 30 minutes or less. Have a thought? Leave a comment or follow me on Twitter.

*Where semi-regular means I sometimes go weeks without writing.

A Minimalist’s WWDC Desires

I’m a pretty unabashed Apple fan. I use almost exclusively Apple products in my personal and professional tech life and for the most part they have served me well. However, seeing as we’re just a day away from WWDC I figured I’d capture some quick thoughts about what I hope to see them do.

In general, I’m very much a minimalist which means I try to be very thoughtful about which tools I use — and how. I don’t really care about brand new pieces of hardware or amazing new apps. I own and copiously use a 12" iPad Pro and Pencil, iPhone 7 Plus, and MacBook in my personal and professional (management consultant) life. And yes, my definition of minimalism includes owning three different and very expensive pieces of technology. Then again, my phone’s home screen also looks like this:

f6be9-1us8_kiqrb-8gaimei4_jxw@2x.jpeg

Before I dive into the specifics, here are some things I’m always looking for from the tech tools I own and use regularly:

  1. Like I just said, great stock apps. I always default to using the stock apps until they can no longer get the job done.

  2. Storing data in the cloud as much as possible. I want as little of my data as possible to be tied to specific devices.

  3. Great syncing. I’m almost equally likely to work from my iPad, iPhone, and MacBook. I want to be able to pick up any of them and know everything is synced and ready to go.

  4. Reliability. I want to think about whether or not my tools are going to “work” as much as possible.

  5. Use all the information you have about me to be as useful as possible. This means using context to be helpful in surprising ways.

  6. Thin, light, and well made.

  7. As simple as possible.

And now, on to some of my hopes for this year’s WWDC.

Better Siri

I would love a world where I could talk to my devices and trust they will do what I want them to do. Unfortunately, we are nowhere near that reality, yet. Siri needs to get more reliable and smarter about parsing my intention. The less “Siri syntax” I have to learn and the more I can talk like a normal human being, the better. Being able to successfully use my phone to do something other than starting or stopping a podcast without having to pull it out of my pocket would be great. #simplicity #reliability

Apple VPN

Somebody on some podcast I listen to suggested this as something that would be really interesting for Apple to offer and I’m on board. I’d pay a couple bucks a month for an Apple VPN (especially given our current political climate). I’ve used a standalone VPN off and on for the last couple years but having something built into the OS (both iOS and macOS) would really simplify things. #simplicity #reliability

Rumored “Siri Speaker”

I don’t have a huge desire for a new piece of hardware to manage, especially since I’ve been having more success using “Hey Siri” on my watch and phone recently (although, not enough success given wish list item #1). However, if Apple focused on making the speaker really good I might be interested if it could feasibly replace one or both of my SONOS speakers. I’ll trade my two SONOS speakers for a really high quality “Siri Speaker” (especially since they both sit on my desk and I live in a studio apartment — meaning I don’t need the separate rooms functionality). What would make this an instabuy for me is if it also contains wireless router functionality, thus replacing my Airport Express, too. #simplicity

Native Sleep Tracking with iPhone + Apple Watch

I’ve used AutoSleep and Sleep++ in the past but I’d love for Apple to just take this over and do it really, really well. AutoSleep is a design nightmare and Sleep++ is fine but has to be turned on manually. I’d really like to see what Apple could do with a native solution. #simplicity #stockapps

Natural Language Processing in Calendar.app

The default calendar app can handle basically everything I need but every time I move away from Fantastical 2 I miss how easy it is to create new events. I don’t want to spin dials or click through options. Let me just type (or say!) a sentence like a person and make my event from that. #simplicity #stockapps

Make Keychain a Legit Standalone Password Manager

I’ve become more interested in the past few weeks in seeing whether Keychain can truly replace 1Password. I’m not sure that it can at the moment… but it’s not too far away from being able to do so. Would love to see Apple lean into this. #simplicity #stockapps

Auto-Start Workouts on Watch

I always forget to start a running workout on my watch when I go for a run. But it knows my footfall cadence, heartrate, (and if I had a newer watch, my GPS location). Meaning, if you can tell I’m running just start a running workout! Or shoot me a push notification that says, “Yo, it looks like you’re running. Are you running?” I’ll bet it could figure out whether I’m swimming or cycling or anything else, too. Be smart about helping me capture these workouts! #simplicity #context

More Granular Notification Settings

I don’t let many notifications come through, but I would love to have control of my Do Not Disturb preferences on an app-by-app basis. Meaning, I’d love to have all my work related apps (a group that I could designate) not be allowed to send me any notifications after 6:00 PM but let my entertainment or messaging based apps keep notifying me until 10:00 PM or so. Even better granularity would be if my phone would shoot me notifications (or not) based on information from my calendar or location in the world, too. #simplicity #context

More Actions From Notifications

Again, I don’t have many notifications hitting my phone/watch… but the ones that do come through I’d love to be able to do more with. Give me more actions so that when I happen to get a notification that I can do something with I can take care of it instantly. #simplicity #context

Better Podcasts App

Every time I try to use the default podcasts app for any length of time I almost always end up reinstalling Overcast. I’m trying to figure out why since ideally a podcast app isn’t something you have to actively engage with very much. I think I just don’t like, or aren’t used to, how it’s laid out. I don’t need to be able to find new podcasts easily so I think the fact that Search, Featured, and Top Charts take up 3/5 of the menu bar real estate really throws it off. #stockapps

TV App

I appreciate the effort of centralizing my video watching experience into one app but if everything isn’t in there then it’s not really solving any problems. Make whatever deals you need to make to get everything in there… or just don’t do it. #stockapps

More Cross Platform Consistency

I don’t think macOS needs to become an iOS clone. I get that the two systems serve different purposes. But there is some really low hanging fruit that should be unified across them. Stuff like setting a timer with Siri on my MacBook. Why can’t I do that? Why is music, TV, movies, and apps all unified under iTunes on my Mac but broken into separate apps on my iOS devices. Let’s clean this up. #simplicity #reliability

iPad Hardware

I’m intrigued by the rumored new 10” iPad form factor that would exist between the original size and the honking 12” size. I think the 12” is slightly too big for me most of the time. I also think that future iPads should get some kind of super unobtrusive kickstand on the back so I can use it without a cover/case. Keep pushing thinness, too. #simplicity #thinandlight

MacBook

I like the new butterfly switch keyboards… except for the fact that I’ve had to get a stuck key fixed three times. Keep the low key travel but make it more reliable. Also, no need to make this any thinner. Keep it the same size but cram some more batteries in there. More battery life is more important than lighter or thinner at this point. #reliability

AirPods

I think AirPods in black would be delightful. I would also like them to be a touch more consistent when I tap to invoke Siri. #reliability

Apple Pencil

Make it so this bastard doesn’t roll away from me without me having to put a stupid third party clip on it. Put an on/off switch on it so the battery doesn’t die as much. And I’d be okay with making it a tiny bit thicker. #simplicity

What about you? What would make your computing life simpler and more enjoyable this year?

Today I Hosted a Party at My Apartment While I Was At Work. Apparently.

Today was a beautiful day. One of those days that’s close enough to the last major snowfall that there’s still some visual evidence of winter on the ground but the blocks of ice that you tried to kick a few days ago only to hurt your toes are pleasingly soft and ever so scrunchable as you walk to the subway but somehow far enough away from the last bone-chilling day that you can almost just believe, just almost, that spring is here (and maybe has always been here).

A year and a half of experience of living in this apartment has taught me that the combination of my south facing windows and a binary, uncontrollable, and laggard (and therefore pumping despite the extremely pleasant weather) radiator was going to make my apartment scorching by the time I got home in the evening. So, I opened one of my two windows, as I have many times before, and left without a care in the world.

This is when the story gets hazy. Not my story, mind you. My story was filled with normal work things like tapping on a keyboard and drinking more coffee than is probably good for me and having meetings and chatting and shaking hands and other normal workaday things. My story is known. Known and boring.

The story of what happened in my apartment, though — that’s more circumstantial. And the circumstances are thus:

Bird poop. Everywhere. And feathers.

There was either one extremely inquisitive yet bowel distressed pigeon in my apartment or there was a seemingly low key yet well-attended pigeon party that centered around my desk and the middle of the floor. Either way, birds found their way into my apartment. Poop found its way onto many spots on the floor, on my bed, in my cast iron skillet (literally in it, like the saddest and worst omelette), next to my coffee maker, the middle of my desk (disturbingly centered and almost elegantly smeared), on top of my dresser (this one had a fading trail of birds footprints leading away from it) and undoubtedly other places that I haven’t found yet.

Luckily, and impressively, there were no birds to be found when I unlocked my door and stepped into the apartment. I like to think that they had a spotter looking for me as I walked up to the building and he hustled over to the still bustling yet winding down aviary party happening in my apartment and let everyone know that it was time to leave.

“Take a final dump! Gary, goddammit you stepped in your own mess. Ok, let’s go everyone!”

Anyway, like I said. It’s all circumstantial at this point.

All I know is that I somehow feel a lot less secure about sleeping with my window open tonight. And a little bit ashamed that the first party held in this apartment wasn’t thrown by me (nor did I even get invited to). Better luck next time, maybe?

I’m not the most sociable guy in the world but I guarantee I wouldn’t have shit on the floor.

This article is part of my sometimes daily series of articles where I challenge myself to write something in 30 minutes or less everyday. It’s 10:54 now and I just want to go to bed so I’m not even re-reading this one. Let’s hope it’s at least semi-coherent. If not, blame the birds.

A Subtle Mental Shift Is Kind of Rocking My World Right Now

I’m a man who love(d) a good goal.

Goals are supposed to provide clarity and potentially motivation (if it’s a particularly well-crafted goal) on a quest of personal development. I know all about how good goals are supposed to be set and I can break down an audacious goal into bite-sized chunks with the best of them. Unfortunately, this torrid love affair with goals has remained largely unrequited. Goals just don’t love me as much as I love them.

My eyes have been wandering and I think I may have found my next personal development amour and this time it feels a little bit different…

A Practice-Based Approach to Personal Development

A practice is more than just a goal. It’s a mindset and lens on life that permeates everything you do and think. You don’t ever achieve a final end state in a practice. There’s no final goal, ultimate boss, or checkbox to tick when you’ve finished. It’s a commitment to taking constant yet small action that helps you develop skill. It’s a way of life. It’s just how you think and act.

My goals were always designed around aspirations like “being in good shape” or accomplishing some sort of impressive extracurricular activity like “write a book” or “start a company.” They were my best shot at articulating the end state that I thought would bring me happiness and/or meaning. I’ve finally realized, though, that trying to set goals kind of flies in the face of a lot of what I believe about the difficulty and impracticality of predicting the future in a complex world. Who am I to know what specifically might be the best thing for me to pursue?

Therefore, I’ve been experimenting with having a small handful of “practices” that I’m always thinking about and trying to challenge and push myself in at all times. They aren’t goals and they are very broad. They come out of the self-knowledge I’ve gained over the past 30 years about when, where, and how I feel like I’m at my best. As of this writing, they are:

  • Mindfulness

  • Strength

  • Cooking

  • Journaling/Writing

  • Minimalism/Essentialism

  • Deep Work

My hypothesis is that developing skills in these areas (which obviously aren’t mutually exclusive) will serve me much more than any set of discrete goals ever could. Each of these practices can be developed with deliberate effort and consist of actual skills that can be practiced and refined.

I’m still working on the supporting mechanisms that will help me bring these to life, but so far I’ve landed on a couple that have worked well.

1. Weekly Freewriting & Reflection

First, I’ve set aside some time every weekend to just do some free writing about how the previous week went in each of my practices. What did I do to become more skilled in this area? What didn’t I do? What should I consider doing next week? Taking some time to just reflect and set some basic intentions helps me stay on the proper track.

2. Tracking Meaningful Metrics

Another thing I’m still in the process of doing is figuring out which metrics actually help me see development in each practice. The obvious one is simply the number of sessions in which I deliberately engage in the practice (number of strength workouts, number of meals cooked at home or new recipes tried, number of meditation sessions, etc.) but I think there may be a few others that are worth tracking. I already have a pretty robust weekly metrics habit where I regularly track a few numbers that matter to me so this is simply a matter of updating those metrics to make sure they directly support my practices.

3. Capturing Potential Next Actions (in a Low Key Way)

Finally, I created a folder for each practice within OmniFocus where I capture discrete next actions I could partake in to help me further develop my practices. These ideas often fall out of the freewriting exercise I shared above. I often start the freewriting exercise by quickly reviewing and checking off the actions I know I took in the previous week. For example, right now in my Cooking Practice I have the actions, “sharpen my knife,” “find a recipe to cook this week,” and “read another section in The Food Lab.” In my Strength Practice I have “bail on a squat” (so I can get over my fear of failing a rep and learn how to do it in a safe way) and “finish reading chapter 3 of Starting Strength.” I treat these next actions lightly and none of them have a due date. They’re just placeholders to help me figure out what to do when I decide I want to do a session in any of my Practices.

I’ve only been doing this for a couple weeks but the difference in my mindset has been incredible. Thinking about the ways I want to be better as never ending practices instead of finite goals has somehow completely shifted what it means to get better at something. My actions are no longer a means to an end but an end within themselves. Maybe it’s possible to make that mental shape without all the rigamarole I described above but for whatever reason this is really working for me.

Expect more on this topic as I continue tweaking the basic approach and getting deeper into the practices themselves.

This article is part of my daily challenge to write and publish something in about 30 minutes. Please excuse the length — if I had more time I would’ve written something shorter. I like feedback in the comments below or Twitter (@samspurlin).

I Am What I Re-Read

Earlier I tweeted:

“You are what you (re)read.”

With that in mind, I figured I’d share a handful of the books I’ve re-read recently (or most frequently):

  • Getting Things Done by David Allen (read 5 times): I read this every year or so. Each time I read it I find some new angle or idea that didn’t resonate with me in any of my earlier readings. It’s a book I turn to when I’m making transitions — most commonly out of a period of extreme busyness and into one of more calm. It helps re-center me.

  • Deep Work by Cal Newport (read 4 times): It’s surprising how many times I’ve read this considering it’s only been out for a year or so. When I’m feeling frustrated with a lack of progress in big and important work I often turn to this book to help get me back on track.

  • Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (read 3 times): This is the book that changed everything for me. After I read it for the first time in early 2011 I decided to apply to graduate school to study positive psychology with Dr. Csikszentmihalyi. That was the best decision I ever could’ve made and I’ve been on a track of meaningful work ever since.

  • Mindfulness in Plain English by Henepola Gunaratana (read 3 times): I think this was the first book I read about mindfulness and I still think it’s the most clearly written and accessible of anything I’ve read. I try to always be reading a book related to my meditation practice and I like coming back to this one (in fact, I think I’m due for another re-reading).

  • Essentialism by Greg McKeown (read 2 times): When life feels overwhelming I come back to Essentialism. I aspire to essentialism in all aspects of how I spend my attention and this book always helps me recalibrate when I feel out of balance.

There are other books I’ve read at least twice (the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit, Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, The Power of Less, Reinventing Organizations, and In Praise of Slowness all fit that criteria according to a quick perusal of Goodreads), but the five I’ve listed above are the ones that come to mind when I think about books I’ve read more than once in the past and will likely keep reading in the future.

Part of me thinks that needing or desiring to re-read books is a failure because I evidently failed to retain the important information within. However, I’ve come to accept that 100% information retention is an unrealistic goal for me to strive for when reading for leisure and that even if I did have the ability to fully retain everything I read a large part of what I find meaningful depends on my personal experiences or emotions at the moment of reading — both things that vary with time.

What are books that you return to over and over? Are there certain books you turn to when you’re feeling a certain way?

This article is part of my (somewhat neglected) series where I challenge myself to draft, edit, and publish something in roughly 30 minutes every day. If you’re interested in what I’m reading you can follow me on Goodreads.

Nearly

It’s 9:52 PM and I just brewed a cup of Sleepytime tea (which I’m not convinced packs much of a sleepy punch). I was about to wrap myself in a blanket and flop onto the couch and read a book on my iPad for an hour or so until I go to bed. Then I remembered this stupid little experiment where I’m challenging myself to write and publish something (nearly) every day.

The “nearly” modifier creates some nice ambiguity that I can use in my favor but I’m not sure I can go more than a week without writing and say I’m nearly doing something. That seems more like an occasionally than a nearly. Or a once-in-a-while.

I don’t think anyone has ever become world class in a discipline by doing something occasionally.

I don’t even really want to be a world class caliber writer (hence my satisfaction with nearly) — I just want to become better than I am right now. Maybe write a book. Definitely write some articles that make some folks say, “Hm, that was pretty good.” Modest goals for a modest commitment to getting better at something.

It’s 9:57 PM now and I still want to read this book and I still want to drink this tea and I still want to go to bed at a reasonable hour so I’m going to say this article is nearly, nah — absolutely, long enough. Because it’s not about writing something awesome once in awhile.

It’s all about writing something, anything, every day.

Well, nearly every day.

This article is part of an experiment where I challenge myself to write and publish something in under 3o minutes every day — typos and run on sentences and abuse of italics be damned.

The Power Usage of Default Apps

Sometimes being a power user means using specialized apps that allow for greater customization than what default apps or services can provide. Power users need special tools so they can tweak and optimize their workflows to the n-th degree.

I think there can be another definition of power user.

I like to explore the idea of being a “power user” of default apps. I like the challenge of artificially restricting myself to only default apps on all my devices (at least in areas where it isn’t prohibitively detrimental to my productivity). Creating this restraint does two things — first, it forces me to really know how to use the default apps and second, it forces me to keep my workflows and systems simpler than I may otherwise be inclined. Both of these are positive outcomes.

The default apps are often surprisingly robust. There’s rarely something I can’t do that I need to do with a default app. At the same time, since they tend to be simpler than other options I could avail myself of I’m forced to be more mindful about what “job” I’m actually hiring a piece of software to do. For example, I recently switched back to the default Mail app across all my devices (away from the incredibly customizable Airmail) because I realized I was using almost none of the customization available in the more advanced app. I was hiring Airmail to do a job that the default Mail app could do just as well — and actually a little bit better (it tends to be stabler and loads faster than Airmail). What I sacrifice in theoretical flexibility I gain in practical usability.

Obviously, there are gaps in what default apps can do. I’m actually writing this right now in Day One, a non-default app for journaling. What Day One does for me is valuable enough to let it break through my non-default app embargo because while I could use something like Pages or TextEdit to keep my digital journal, it would be a vastly diminished experience. Part of what keeps me journaling regularly is how enjoyable it is to use this app and the features it has specifically related to journaling. Another non-default app that I absolutely must use copiously is Slack. There is no Apple-made Slack client. Slack is Slack. And Slack is where 98% of my work communication happens. Thus, Slack lives on all my devices.

Default apps I’ve recently re-embraced, though, include Notes, Podcasts Numbers, iBooks, Twitter, Apple Music, and Apple Maps. There may be “better” versions of each of these apps made by a third party developer but I’ve realized that in almost every case the default version is more than suitable for what I truly need it for. The fact that the Twitter app is worse than Tweetbot is actually making me use Twitter less — which is probably a good thing. Same with the Podcast app. Using Overcast makes it so easy to find other episodes of shows I like I often ended up spending more time listening to podcasts than I actually wanted. The Podcasts app doesn’t have cool features like Overcast… but it does pull down the handful of podcasts I subscribe to and let me listen to them. Which is really all I need.

Challenge yourself to give the default apps on your devices a try for a week or two and you may surprise yourself in realizing what is and isn’t necessary for you to be productive and happy.

This article is part of an experiment where I try to write and publish an idea in 30 minutes or less (nearly) every day, typos and logical sloppiness be damned. Want to keep the discussion going? Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter.

Your Priorities Are Only as Good as What You De-Prioritize

A few days ago I shared a personal practice that has been really valuable — the even-over statement. If you missed that article, the basic idea is that nothing is truly a priority unless you’re willing to sacrifice something else in the name of it. Using an even-over statement forces you to articulate that tradeoff in a way that can really help put a fine point on what you’re trying to do.

My three even-over statements for the first part of 2017 are:

  1. Sincerity e/o Irony

  2. Good Weeks e/o Good Days

  3. Consistent e/o Stochastic

I took a first stab at articulating what these actually mean to me in the original article, but upon further re-reading I realized I didn’t go into much detail about the “even over” part of each statement. It’s important to remember that an even-over statement is only as powerful as the good thing that’s being de-prioritized in each statement. To that end, I wanted to describe the deliberate tradeoff I’m making by adhering to these statements.

Sincerity even over Irony

As I mentioned before, the impetus of this even over statement comes from this excellent video from Will Schoder. I think part of the reason that it resonates so much with me is because it helped me realize how much of my own conduct and sense of humor leans on the ironic. It’s easy for me to be self-deprecating or cynical (which I consider cousins of irony) when I’m trying to be funny. It’s a.) too easy b.) a way to avoid being vulnerable and c.) frankly, not that funny.

Defaulting to sincerity does not come easily to me and yet I really value the people in my life who seem to be able to do a good job of it. I want to be more like them. I suspect it will make me a more pleasant person to be around, make me more effective in my work, and probably just improve my quality of life.

Good Weeks even over Good Days

I’m a huge believer in being mindful about how I spend my time and attention. I try not to let distractions interfere when I’m doing meaningful work — I mean, I read Deep Work by Cal Newport three times last year. Doing the right stuff, whether that’s taking care of myself physically or making sure I’m moving forward important work is central to my identity and sense of well-being. Unfortunately, this has often manifested in being way too hard on myself on a daily basis. It’s pretty unreasonable to expect every day to be amazing.

Even though it feels wrong I’m going to experiment with broadening my self-reflective (self-critical) horizon out to a weekly basis. Tied to this experiment is the realization that I almost always feel like I never get enough done on a daily basis but often surprise myself with how much I’m able to accomplish in an entire week. With that in mind, this even over statement is designed to bring me into alignment with that realization.

Consistent even over Stochastic

When I think of being stochastic I think of two things that are pretty positive: spontaneity and high intensity intervals. Being spontaneous is fun. People like spontaneous people (for the most part). Working in high intensity intervals aligns with much of my philosophy about how people are able to focus and develop a deep work practice. But for the time being I need to set these positive elements of a more stochastic working or self-care style aside and focus on doing the small, boring, yet absolutely vital things more consistently.

Even over statements don’t work if the thing you’re giving up isn’t difficult or intrinsically “good” in some way. In some respects, I think the power of this exercise and practice doesn’t come from the front half of these statements (the thing you want more of) but from selecting the right attribute to disengage with.

Only then do these “priorities” actually begin to be actual Priorities.

This article is part of a personal experiment where I write and publish something in 30 minutes or less (nearly) every day. Find a typo? Have a question or comment? Leave a comment below or talk to me on Twitter.

Is It Possible to “Be Hungry” Without Working Insane Hours?

What does it mean to be hungry in the context of your work — if you take working insane hours off the table as an option?

This idea came up during our recent Ready Week (a trimesterly week where we don’t do any client work and instead focus internally while capping it off with an all-hands retreat). We didn’t really dive into it in much detail so I wanted to take a stab at articulating something.

This is particularly important to us because we are a self-managing organization. Each member at The Ready holds a portfolio of roles. Each role holder is expected to figure out the best ways to “energize” their roles and the limitations on what you can and cannot do are fairly non-existent. There aren’t any roles in our organization whose purpose is to manage any of the other roles. The end result is an incredible amount of freedom and autonomy to do what I think is best. At the same time, it truly is up to me to figure out how to raise the bar on each of my roles.

That’s where the idea of hunger comes in. A truly self-managed organization only thrives when everybody is pushing up against the limits of what they think they can do. Without that deliberate expansion and exploration of what each role could or should do the organization remains static. It’s only when the edges are explored and challenged that the organization continues to grow and evolve.

The easiest way to think about being hungry at work is simply putting in more hours than anyone else. This is far too simple and unsustainable to be the actual answer. While we all sometimes put in more than the standard 40 hour week, we try to make that the exception rather than the rule. In many cases, working extreme hours is what you do when you don’t actually know how to have an impact or are more interested in “hunger theatre” than actual hunger.

For me, I’ve been exploring the ideas of prioritization and focus as my way of operationalizing hunger.

The two books I come back to again and again as I think about how to up the hunger factor in the way I work is Deep Work by Cal Newport and Essentialism by Greg McKeown.

On the Deep Work side of things, being hungry means tackling everything I do at work (and elsewhere) with single-minded focus and determination. It’s about being able to concentrate on something beyond the first twinges of discomfort in order to get beyond the surface level observations and output that are relatively easy to gain and thus less valuable.

Having a deep work practice, and having that practice be my standard operating procedure for when I’m “at work” strikes me as being hungry. Deep work isn’t easy. It doesn’t necessarily feel good. But a company full of people dedicated to the practice of deep work is a company that’s inevitably creating something new and valuable.

Prioritization, on the other hand, is about knowing what to go deep on. It runs the gamut from developing and using even-over statements, to ruthlessly unsubscribing from unproductive email, saying “no” far more frequently than I’d prefer otherwise, streamlining low-impact but necessary activity, etc.

My favorite resource related to prioritization is Essentialism. Essentially (heh), being hungry is about eliminating the vast majority of the low impact activities, responsibilities, and requests on my time. It’s about forcing myself to get clear about where and how I have the largest impact and ignoring everything that’s not that. In my specific situation, that may mean skipping a “let’s get coffee and chat” request in order to work deep on a new theoretical contribution to our work or setting aside time to turn off all my devices, go somewhere quiet, and just think for a bit.

The nice thing about operationalizing hunger as focus and prioritization is that neither of these are contingent upon time. They aren’t antithetical to work life balance (actually, they are directly in support of it).

If your next performance review came down to hunger what would you do in the next 90 days to make that the cornerstone of how you work?

This article is part of a new experiment where I write and publish something in about 30 minutes (nearly) every day. Find a typo? Have a question? Leave a comment or follow me on Twitter to chat.

A Nifty Tool for Making “Priority” Mean Something Again

One of my favorite thought technologies is the “even over statement.” An even over statement is a declaration of priority. It’s you saying you’re going to emphasize GOOD THING even over OTHER GOOD THING. It puts a delightful point on something we all know but rarely enact— that priorities require sacrifice. If there’s one word in the English language that has been bastardized beyond recognition it’s “priority.”

Maybe a long, long time ago attaching the word “priority” to an intention or a goal was something laudable. Now? It’s just the price of entry for joining the list of 17 other “priorities.”

When we work with teams at The Ready we often run them through a Strategy Meeting where we force them to create even over statements for their priorities. There’s always much gnashing of teeth and furrowing of brows but the end result always feels good. You leave the room knowing what to focus on and even more important, what’s okay to let slide in the pursuit of the actual priorities.

ANYWAY, preamble over.

I like to do strategy statements for myself. Here’s what I came up with. I’m going to run with these for at least a couple months and will revisit them later to see if they’re still resonating with me. Other than that, I’m going to bake some time into my weekly review each Sunday to reflect on them a bit.

These statements are meant to help guide me personally over the next few months and they are born of my self-observations and self-reflection. They are designed to address some areas of concern that have come to my attention and to be general enough to impact many aspects of my life but specific enough that they actually mean something.

Sincerity even over Irony

I’m tempted to just share this YouTube link and tell you that it encapsulates everything I’m trying to do with this statement better than I could ever write about it. In a nutshell, I think irony (and it’s close cousin, cynicism) have weaseled their way into my daily interactions and thought patterns to an unhealthy extent. Hip irony, sarcasm, and copious self-effacement have become crutches that prevent me from actually having to be sincere. From actually caring deeply about things. And while that’s not entirely accurate (I care deeply about lots of things) I don’t know that I’ve let that care and sincerity out of the closely held place I tend to keep them.

Good Weeks even over Good Days

I’m really hard on myself. Really, really, hard. My horizon for self-criticism has gotten far too short, though. I know that it’s okay to have off days but my modus operandi is to get far too critical with myself at the first sign of mediocrity. It comes from a good place (wanting to be a better person than I am today, wanting to make the world a better place, wanting to make the people around me happier/better/etc.) but the sick twist is that my self-criticism often gets in the way of me actually being able to do any of that.

So, instead, I’m going to broaden my horizon of criticism and reflection beyond the standard 24 hours I’ve been operating under. Now, I’m going to try to spend less time stressing about whether or not I had a good day and instead focus on figuring out how to have good weeks. I can still have a good week even if I sprinkle in the occasional bad day.

Consistent even over Stochastic

I have a small handful of simple activities that I know make me feel SO GOOD when I do them consistently. They are incredibly boring. Things like going to bed on time. Waking up on time. Meditating every day. Not eating out all the goddamn time. Working out consistently. Writing. Really groundbreaking stuff.

While these activities are certainly simple it hasn’t necessarily been easy to do them consistently. I go through short bursts where I nail them everyday. But then I’ll go through a burst where I do a few of them while letting the others fall to the wayside. Or I’ll do none of them for weeks. And then all of them for a week.

Considering how simple these things are and how I know how they have a huge impact on how I feel about myself (and thus how effective I am at work and how pleasant I am to be around and my general outlook on the world) there’s really no excuse for being so haphazard about them anymore. So, consistent even over stochastic I must be. I’m going to wrap these boring routines around me and wear them like a fucking blanket. It’s going to be so boring. And awesome.

Three statements. Three very clear strategies to help me navigate through an uncertain world. Here’s to a 2017 of sincerity, good weeks, and mind numbing consistency.

This is the first article in a new experiment where I write and publish something in about 30 minutes (nearly) every day. Find a typo? Have a question? Leave a comment or follow me on Twitter to chat.