2016 in Review: Podcasts

I’m a huge fan of podcasts but am fairly selective with what I add to my regular listening rotation because if I subscribe to something it means I listen to every episode (and have either been listening to it since day one or I worked my way through the entire back catalog). Most of these podcasts I’ve been listening to for years.

Looking at my list of podcasts I’m struck by how I listen to most of them because of the personalities of the hosts and not the topic of the show. You’ll see a lot of the same names in the descriptions below.

I also noticed that I really don’t enjoy interview podcasts. I know some of the most popular podcasts in the world follow this format (and some of my friends create podcasts in this style) but I just haven’t been able to get into that genre. Given the importance of personality to my podcast listening experience it’s not too surprising that I seem to prefer shows where the hosts are always the same people and therefore build up a rich history of subtext, inside jokes, and running bits that rewards the long time listener.

  • Above Avalon: This is the only podcast I listen to where it’s just one person talking the whole time. Neil Cybart consistently provides Apple analysis that’s refreshingly different from most of the other Apple pundits I follow.

  • Accidental Tech Podcast: Marco Arment, John Siracusa, and Casey Liss talking about Apple and other technology. I’ve been listening to Marco and John for years (back during the Hypercritical and Build and Analyze days) and have been listening to ATP since it was just a joke section during Neutral. A great example of three hosts with chemistry who all bring something different and valuable to the table.

  • Back to Work: Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin talk about work, productivity, and anything else that comes across their radar on a weekly basis. This has been a staple of my podcast lineup for years.

  • Canvas: Federico Viticci and Fraser Speirs combine for the most delightfully accented podcast I listen to regularly. This is all about using iOS and as I’ve explored using iOS more on a day-to-day basis I’ve learned a ton from this podcast. I’ll probably be going back and listening to specific episodes again as I dive deeper into the iOS-centric lifestyle.

  • Connected: Myke Hurley, Federico Viticci, and Stephen Hackett combine for a weekly technology news show that always seems to find its way back into my lineup even if it does get occasionally lost during my regular podcast purges.

  • Cortex: Myke Hurley and CGP Grey host my favorite productivity podcast. Grey is a complete weirdo (in a good way) and Myke does a great job at bringing out the quirkiness. I get more ideas for my own productivity workflows from this podcast than anywhere else.

  • Do By Friday: Merlin Mann, Max Temkin, and Alex Cox host a weekly “challenge show” that is ostensibly centered on a weekly challenge. The challenge is mostly a McGuffin for a humorous conversation among three very funny people.

  • Exponent: This is one of the few podcasts I listen to that actually makes me feel better at my day job after listening to it (along with Above Avalon). Ben Thompson and James Allworth always have great conversations that range widely in topic. If you’re interested in technology this is definitely worth listening to.

  • The Flop House: Working through the entire back catalog of The Flop House was one of my crowning achievements in 2016. I’ve seen almost none of the movies they talk about and that never prevents me from enjoying every episode.

  • Hello Internet: Brady Haran and CGP Grey are professional YouTubers who started this podcast to talk about YouTube and have since created a podcast universe unto themselves. Brady and Grey are polar magnetic opposites which makes for great listening.

  • Living Zen Podcast: I think I caught this podcast at a weird time. The first episode I listened to was this incredibly personal and difficult sounding talk about how the center might not be able to continue because of a lack of funds. I don’t know what this means for the longevity of this podcast but so far it has been one of the more accessible zen podcasts I’ve found.

  • Ordinary Mind Zendo: This is the podcast of the zendo I joined in October. Good, short, talks.

  • Presidents Are People Too!: Elliott Kalan from The Flop House and historian Alexis Coe dive deep into the life of one former president in each episode. I became a huge fan of Elliott during my The Flop House obsession and resolved to listen to anything he was part of. A couple weeks ago my wishes were granted with this podcast. If you’re an Audible customer, you can listen to the episodes earlier than iTunes customers by checking out Channels.

  • Reconcilable Differences: Merlin Mann and John Siracusa have finally come together for the podcast we’ve been waiting forever for. John and Merlin have awesome chemistry.

  • Road Work: I was going to try to write something about this podcast by Dan Benjamin and John Roderick but I think the description from the webpage will suffice: “America’s top two podcast personalities are finally coming together in one podcasting event that will change the way you think about podcasting forever! Like a rock skipping over the placid waters of an alpine lake, Dan and John are all too well aware that this burst of kinetic energy will ultimately deposit them, like all human effort, at rest in the icy depths where no light can penetrate. Until then, they mean to thrill to the chase! To soak up the remaining light and banish thoughts of tomorrow! EXCELSIOR!”

  • Roderick on the Line: Merlin Mann and John Roderick. The pinnacle of the “two guys talking” genre.

  • Unattended Consequences: A new addition that introduced me to Patrick Rothfuss (as a podcast personality and amazing author). Pat and Max Temkin make a great duo.

  • Under the Radar: I’m not an iOS developer but for some reason I really enjoy this podcast. Hosted by “Underscore” David Smith and Marco Arment.

Looking to the Future

I might try to find some more educational or business related podcasts to add to the rotation. The vast majority of what I currently listen to is pure entertainment and I can’t help but feel if I added some more Exponent-esque shows to the mix I might expose myself to more ideas that might prove useful in my work.

I need to be careful with what I add, though, because podcast listening time often cannibalizes audiobook listening time and I’d rather spend more time on audiobooks in 2017. I kind of feel like I’m mostly at capacity right now so it will probably take unsubscribing from something or really just being blown away by something new to add it to the rotation.

What are your favorite podcasts from 2016? What should I give a trial run?

The Dueling Forces of Focus and Curiosity: Following Up on a Minimalism Experiment

A couple weeks ago I wrote an article about a minimalism experiment I was undertaking. My minimalism practice was already well developed so this experiment wasn’t about shifting from some kind of normal state into some slight decluttering, but about taking my pre-existing minimalist tendencies to a whole new level.

I won’t go over the parameters of the challenge in excruciating detail here (you’re welcome to read the original article if you want the gory details) but the basic gist was that I would basically remove every source of novelty or information in my life for a set period of time and notice the effect it had in my mind.

The impetus for the experiment was my own low-level frustration in not doing the things I knew I should be doing (writing regularly, meditating, and working out, mostly). Particularly when it comes to writing, I knew that I was not giving myself enough quiet time to work through or develop ideas truly worth writing about. I’ve had experience with the kinds of insights I can tap into when I systematically remove some of the noise in my life and I wanted to try to make that space for meaningful ideas and writing again.

Now, several weeks after my minimalism proclamation I feel like I owe people an update as to how everything has gone/is going.

First, my true extreme minimalism stage lasted an embarrassingly short period of time after publishing the original article. Within a couple days I found myself diving deeper into the world of third party apps across all my devices (iPhone, iPad, MacBook, and Apple TV) than I ever had before. Other aspects of the experiment stuck around for a bit longer. I didn’t listen to any podcasts for a couple weeks (although I have since caught up on the approximately 10 shows I’m subscribed to), my RSS reader remained empty for awhile (and now has about 8 sources in it), and only yesterday did I put my Withings wireless scale back in the bathroom.

Mentally, I noticed a couple of interesting things. First, and I’ve known this for months, maybe years, and have been wanting to write about it forever, but I seem to have two modes that I’ll call Expansive and Minimal. This whole experiment represents the desires of my Minimal mode. When the Minimal mode engages I look for ways to gain control over my environment and my mind. I declutter my already sparsely appointed apartment, I delete third party apps off all my devices and resolve to “run stock”, I look for ways to automate life tasks (hello Blue Apron, FreshDirect, and Cleanly) or I look to cancel every unnecessary subscription or service (goodbye Blue Apron, FreshDirect, Cleanly, Netflix, Apple Music, etc.). It’s hard to predict how it’s going to manifest and it’s very rarely rational to behold. The Minimal mode wakes from its slumber when I’m frustrated by the way I’m choosing to spend my time and generally feeling like I’m letting myself and the people around me down by not being better. I think it’s equal parts the desire to remove distraction and a way to punish myself for dropping the ball.

The Minimal mode’s antithesis is what I’ve been calling the Expansive mode. This is the equally enthralling state of mind where I break out of the confines of minimalism and decide to guzzle from the fire hose of information and entertainment and social interaction that our modern technology makes so easy to do. When the Expansive mode comes out to play I find myself following more people on Twitter, reinstalling Instagram, adding a bunch of stuff to my RSS reader and actively looking for new podcasts to check out. I’ll eschew the default apps that come with my devices and dive deep into finding the specific third party apps that allow the customization and features that let me use my devices like the semi-power user I am. I revel in novelty. I skip from distraction to distraction.

Since that original article I think I’ve gone through both of these mindsets at least once, maybe twice.

Somehow I feel like the Minimal mode is the “right” one for me to be in and that if I could only find a way to remain like the urban monk I become during those phases I would somehow do all the things I feel like I should be doing that I’m currently not. Of course, though, it’s not that simple.

I’m trying to find my healthy middle way. I think I found my preferred baseline standard operating procedure a long time ago (it’s very minimal but it is much more reasonable than when I’m under the influence of my full blown Minimal mode). Because, spoiler alert, making physical and mental space in my life to be productive and do great things isn’t the secret to actually doing those things. The removal of distraction and novelty is not sufficient in itself to bring new creative endeavors into the world. On a logical level, I know that. But when I’m deep in the throes of hating myself for being so goddamn mediocre it can feel so much easier and straightforward to find some shit in my apartment to throw away, delete some apps from my phone, wipe my Twitter followers, and sit in the quiet comfort that, “Now there’s nothing left to distract me. I have no choice but to write/workout/read/whatever I’m not doing but feel like I should.”

I do think there is value to occasionally wiping the slate clean and starting fresh. I do think challenging myself to do with less is better than becoming accustomed to more. I do think eliminating distractions and carving out time and attention to dedicate to difficult work is a worthwhile endeavor. What I don’t believe, though, is that this is only “right” way to live and any time I stray away from it I am giving into temptaton or taking the easy way out.

The past couple weeks have made me more interested in what it looks like to live a deliberate and conscious life full of meaningful work in the midst of the chaos of life in NYC in 2016 while working at a start-up and while being an insatiably curious person with wide interests. True mindfulness is being able to take the device with the hundreds of third party apps and know how to flip it over and silence it when it’s time to write and not need to go through the acrobatics of neutering its functionality and hiding it because that’s the only way I’ll leave it alone long enough to do anything worthwhile.

True dedication to my craft is being able to carve out the time I need to do the things I say I care about (like writing) not by making grand gestures of wiping my calendar clean or cancelling every social commitment but by taking seriously the snippets of time that are underutilized or unappreciated right now. Or, even better, knowing how to create the space and distraction-free environment I know I need to wrestle with big ideas and complex tasks without having to become some kind of proto-digital hermit in the process.

Anyway, I suspect ill keep swinging between my Expansive and Minimal mindsets in the future but I’m going to try to keep the really deep, dark dives into either end of the continuum a much less frequent thing. Instead, I’ll try to hang out in the middle a little bit more and will get better about identifying how and when I should step a little further toward Expansion or Minimalization. When I’m in between article ideas or sitting on the front end of a new and large project then maybe that’s the time to open my aperture a bit further and indulge in more of my Expansive tendencies to get the information and perspectives and ideas that I can use as raw material later on. Once that raw material is gathered, though, and it’s time to actually crank on some kind of product I can put on my metaphorical monk robes, put my phone in a drawer, stop trying to perfect my “information consumption strategy”, and get lost in the Minimalism that lets me focus long and hard on one thing.

How to Prepare for a Vacation in the Digital Age

This article isn’t about the planning or logistics that go into taking a good vacation (less is always more when it comes to that anyway). It’s about how I’m setting up my devices and the expectations people have for me to simultaneously not detract from my vacation and enhance it (which are related but separate concepts). Your mileage may vary.

First, let’s get clear about what a vacation, or specifically this vacation, is for. It’s two weeks long with half of that time spent in (hopefully) warm and sunny Florida and half spent in decidedly less warm (but probably equally sunny) Michigan. The Florida segment will primarily be spent without obligations (familial or otherwise) while the Michigan segment will consist of staying at my parents’ house and being surrounded by my large immediate and intermediate family.

Regardless of the geographic characteristics of the vacation, the goals across the two weeks are largely the same:

  • Unplug my brain from work (both the day-to-day logistics and details of managing large scale organizational change efforts and the deliberate pondering of organizational design theory*)

  • Reboot my attentional sensitivity by abstaining from digital candy (my main vices are Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, and the ever so occasional glimpse at Facebook)

  • Reset my bedrock habits (full sleep with a relatively early waking time, daily meditation, daily exercise, and daily writing)

  • Indulge my curiosity through analog exploration instead of Wikipedia rabbit holes

  • Spend quality relationship building time with my very long term but also very long distance girlfriend (and who will be accompanying me on the first segment of this vacation)

With those basic goals in mind I had a clearer sense of what I need my devices to do to both get out of my way and also enhance what I want to do. Here’s what I did:

  • Moved all work specific apps (Fantastical, Safari, Airmail, Slack — for now) into a folder, turned off their notification privileges, and banished that folder to the back page

  • Deliberately decided which apps to leave on my front page. The ones who made the cut are Kindle, iBooks, Overcast, Instapaper, Music, Camera, Byword, and 2Do. A few words of explanation…

  • Obviously, I aim to spend much of this vacation with my nose (or ears) buried in a book. I have many, many hours left in the audiobook version of Ron Chernow’s George Washington biography and have yet to choose a book to actually read. I’m leaning toward Wise Man’s Fear (book one was insanely good) or some other fiction

  • I have a bit of an Instapaper backlog. Even though most of those articles are ostensibly work related I’m fortunate to find those topics intrinsically interesting. Once I clear that backlog I’ll probably move it off the front page

  • I also have a very small podcast backlog. I think I’ll give it the Instapaper treatment — clear the backlog, pause refilling it until after vacation, and then move it off the front page

  • Camera makes the cut because I want to take pictures over the next two weeks. I’m terrible at remembering to do this but am nearly always glad when I do

  • 2Do (my task management app) may seem like a weird app to include on the front page given my goals related to unplugging from the work. However, I need it close at hand because I will be using it copiously to dump the various thoughts that come to mind related to work. It’s the starting point of my GTD system and I’m a firm believer in thinking ideas once and then saving them somewhere I know I can trust to deal with them later

  • My iPad is setup the same way but with the addition of Byword (which is where I’m writing this right now as I fly to Florida). Writing is something that’s incredibly important to me and I’m hoping to spend a significant amount of time over the next two weeks just writing about whatever seems urgent and/or interesting when it’s time to sit down and type. This is my favorite iOS app for doing that. Some entries may find there way to Medium but chances are most will end up in Day One (my long running digital journal)

Outside of the actual app arrangement itself, I’ve also gone in and silenced nearly every notification that is even somewhat likely to happen over the next two weeks that isn’t absolutely critical (e.g. email is silenced but my banking app can still tell me if someone is trying to use my credit card to pay for illicit pet monkeys in Nova Scotia).

I dropped a note in my Twitter profile about being away for the next two weeks, but that’s probably more in service of my own vanity than the unlikely situation that anyone would notice or care about my absence. Turned off notifications, too. The burst of dopamine every time someone likes a tweet feels nice, but I’ll be searching for more natural dopamine hits on this vacation (that sounds like I’m talking about drugs… more like sitting on a beach with my feet in the water or petting a dolphin on the head).

I don’t get many emails, but I’ve gone ahead and setup a simple vacation responder letting people know when I’ll return. People who really know me already have my phone number and are welcome to call or text in a true emergency.

Work-wise, I’ve cleared my plate everywhere I could, talked to my team about covering key meetings in my absence, and trust that nothing too bad can happen in two weeks (right?).

Now, it’s all about easing into the mental space of not needing to be “on.” It’s about resisting the muscle memory of flipping open Tweetbot or Slack and making sure I’m “on top of things.” It’s about soothing and calming a mind that is often moving faster than is useful or enjoyable.

So with that I’ll close my iPad, pop in my headphones, and listen to the soothing dulcet tones of a gentleman telling me about the life of the first American president. I’ll feel the urge to make a humorous quip on Twitter or see how many people recommended this article but instead I’ll just turn up the volume and remember that Washington didn’t help lead a revolution or cross the Delaware — and I won’t do whatever my equivalent is — without letting the inessential and inconsequential crowd out the necessary hard work of recharging physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

And last I checked there’s no app for that.

  • My notebook will be ready to record any insights that I hope bubble through my subconscious and make it the surface of my awareness. You better believe I’ll be capturing those. Those mind nuggets are gold!

How Does a Minimalist Pack? A Quick Retrospective on a 1-Day Business Trip

Anything I do more than once I expect to get better at. Traveling is one of those things. My job has me traveling a fair amount and each trip is an opportunity to perfect the way I do it. I also like challenging myself to pack as lightly as possible.

This trip was for a quick 1-day sojourn to Chicago from New York City. It would have me leaving Wednesday evening and coming back to NYC Thursday evening. I spent the vast majority of Thursday at the client’s office delivering a workshop.

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The first gathering of stuff.

Let’s take a look at my first stab at packing for the trip:

  • Slacks, undershirt, grey button up shirt, socks, underwear, athletic shorts

  • Mittens & scarf

  • 12” MacBook Retina & power cord

  • iPad Air 2 w/ charging brick and cord

  • Apple Watch series 1 (not pictured) and its ridiculously long charging cord

  • iPhone 7 Plus (not pictured) and Lightning EarPods

  • Medium size Moleskine notebook & pen

  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant, pomade, contacts, comb, NightGuard (dentist’s orders…), glasses & case, sunglasses & case, dopp kit

  • Wallet

  • 15 The Ready Vol. 1 magazines (not pictured)

  • A stack of post-it notes (not pictured)

  • A handful of sharpies (not pictured)

  • 100 ping pong balls (not pictured)

Not being happy with my first attempt at anything I took a look at everything laid out on the table and decided to see if I could make another attempt at removing the nonessential.

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Didn’t make the 2nd cut.

I decided to not bring:

  • Mittens & scarf (I was only going to be there for a day and would spend most of it indoors anyway)

  • Sunglasses (landing at night, spending the whole day inside, and then flying out again in the dark)

  • Comb (I don’t actually have a hair style that requires a comb — I dunno why I grabbed it in the first place)

  • iPad (since I was bringing my computer and my phone and the flight was short I figured I didn’t have much use for a third device)

  • Athletic shorts (realized I wasn’t going to have time to workout)

After removing those things, this is what was left to go into the bag:

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A couple things to note:

  • I decided to only bring the iPad charging brick (as opposed to my iPhone brick and/or Apple Watch brick) because it would super charge my phone and watch and I didn’t necessarily need to charge both of those things at the same time.

  • At the last second I decided to bring my Beats noise cancelling headphones but not the charger and cord. My reasoning was that the flight was short and that I should be able to get there and back without needing to charge them. I was right.

  • I definitely could have worn the same pants on the plane and then to the workshop the next day and it wouldn’t have been a big deal. Although, I guess I’d really be rolling the dice on keeping them stain-free for two days in a row (I have a magic ability to somehow always get food on myself).

  • I regret not bringing my scarf and mittens. It was 19 degrees at one point and I walked from the hotel to the client’s office (roughly half a mile).

  • I forgot to grab an adapter (USB-C to VGA) at the office before I left so I had to buy one when I got there.

  • If I didn’t have to bring workshop material (magazines, ping pong balls, post-its, and sharpies) I probably could have just brought my backpack and not needed my carry on as well.

Overall, pretty solid attempt. Didn’t really bring anything that wasn’t used and didn’t leave much behind that I really wish I had with me — which is generally my metric for determining whether I did a good job packing.

Getting to Essential and Creating Space

I’ve been trying to articulate why my radical minimalism experiment feels so necessary. I took a stab at it in yesterday’s article but I thought I would take another shot at it right now.

I think there are two driving forces behind this effort. The first is the relatively simple idea of figuring out how little I need to truly be happy and productive. I’m healthy, straight, white, and male so the cynical way to understand this feeling is to think that my life is so peachy keen that I need to manufacture my own challenges. Cynical but probably more true than I’d like to admit.

My life is pretty great and I don’t really have any hardships worth pointing to.

And maybe it’s because of this cushy reality I feel like I have to take deliberate steps to not lock myself into the warm and dulling embrace of having every desire and whim met at a moment’s notice (but God, what a douchey thing to say, right?).

Perhaps this is my attempt at ensuring my success, to the extent I have any, originates from something other than privilege and fortunate external circumstances. Perhaps if I pare down my belongings and my attachments and my desires I’ll be left with a nugget of something that is me. And if all my success doesn’t escape or if I’m able to continue doing great work when the gap between capital M Me and what I produce isn’t intermediated by stuff then maybe I’m worthwhile after all?

This is taking an existential turn.

The second force at play is that I’m worried my participation in modern society is destroying the state of mind required to create something truly great. I’ve always believed that I was capable (destined?) to make a meaningful impact on the world. A book? A company? A talk? A theory? I’m not 100% sure the medium it will take but I am 100% sure that it will take more effort, time, and focus than anything I’ve ever done. Looking at the ebb and flow of my daily life right now I don’t see how that’s ever going to happen. I mean, it’s not like I’m going to suddenly suck at my job or anything like that. It’s more the realization that I could continue doing what I’m doing and have a perfectly mediocre life or I could really fuck-shit-up (FSU) and have a shot at doing something great.

It may be sad that the best way I can see to FSU right now is to basically stop using social media, put away my electronic entertainment devices, and sit in silence a bit more (more privilege, ftw). But hey, for me (and a lot of other people I know) that’s the modern version of FSU. Maybe I’ll find/be subjected to something different to do down the road (taking a long sabbatical? moving to another country? contracting a life changing illness?) but for now this is my best shot at shaking things up.

The hope is that this newfound space and silence will not only give me the raw time I need to create something great but also the time I need for the ideas bouncing around in my head to coalesce. Some ideas can be skimmed off the surface of the mind and implemented pretty quickly (and sometimes they’re even pretty good) but I have a feeling the really groundbreaking stuff requires the uncertainty and agony and frustration of silence when all you really want to do is listen to a goddamn podcast or shoot some aliens.

How to Make Sure Your Organization Is Constantly Getting Better — Part 1

I fantasize about a world where org design consultants are no longer needed.

I’ll finally be able to start my llama farm secure in the knowledge that all organizations everywhere are functioning at peak capacity. In this future world where I spend my days knitting llama-fur socks (do llama’s have fur? wool? I think I need to do some research…) the idea of hiring outside experts to help your organization function better would be bizarre. It would be unnecessary because the skills and expertise needed to improve your organization would be baked into the organization itself. All employees would have the skills and mindset required to be an org designer not because I think everyone wants to do the type of work I do, but because being a great organization in the 21st century requires that everyone sweat the ongoing functioning and structure of their company.

If everyone in your organization isn’t paying at least a little bit of attention to how they work and organize then your organization isn’t functioning as well as it could. Assuming your organization is trying to bring some kind of positive change in the world (by giving people meaningful work and/or creating beneficial products or services) the fact that it’s not functioning as well as it could be is heartbreaking.

If you’re with me so far then the next obvious question is, “What does it mean to think like an org designer?”

There are a handful of ideas that I think are central to this shift in perspective. I’ll introduce the first two of them, in their barest forms, below.

Knowing the Difference Between Working In vs. Working On Your Organization

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Working

ON the organization.

The first concept you need to understand is the difference between working in your organization versus working on your organization. Working in your organization essentially means doing what you were hired to do. It’s doing the work of moving the organization forward. It’s cranking widgets, answering email, going to meetings, and generally “being good at your job.” In most organizations this is the extent of expectations for the vast majority of employees. “Do what we hired you to do and don’t worry about anything else.”

On the other hand, working on the organization is what you do when you view the organization as a product in itself. It’s figuring out how to improve the roles, policies, and structure of the organization. Instead of going to meetings it’s trying to understand how meetings could be better. Instead of responding to emails it’s endeavoring to understand why everyone gets so much email in the first place and whether there’s anything to be done to make email less arduous. It’s thinking about how people come together to work on teams (and disband those teams when the work is finished and learn from other teams and how teams manage conflict and so on). Traditionally, it was up to “management” or “leadership” to think about these things while everyone else was supposed to be focused on simply doing the work.

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Working IN the organization

The distinction between people who work in the organization and those who work on the organization must be blurred now. We don’t live in a world where the select and elite few can spend their time thinking about the overall health of the organization while everyone else does the actual work. Organizations are too complex for that kind of division of labor to work now. Instead of having organizations full of separate “thinkers” and “doers”, the best organizations expect everyone to be a “thinker and a doer.” Everyone must work in the organization and also work on the organization.

An Appreciation for Complexity

The reason we need every employee to be both a thinker and a doer is because these employees need to exist in a complex system.

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Unpredictable, many independent agents following specific rules, not micro-managed by an external force.

Talking about complexity and complex adaptive systems is often one of the first things I do with a client before talking about the specifics of their situation. Regardless of the problem(s) we are trying to solve we’re going to have to keep the complex nature of modern organizations front and center. Any attempt to improve organizations and their functioning based on an overly mechanistic mindset is doomed from the outset. That’s because our organizations operate much more like weather or traffic than a finely internal combustion engine.

In a nutshell, a complex system is one in which the individual components follow simple local rules and are not directed by a higher order set of instructions. Complex systems are marked by their unpredictability. These systems cannot be predicted to extreme specificity but we can look at known conditions and information to make general predictions about what will happen (we know it may rain today, but we don’t know specifically when it will start or precisely how much rain will fall on each location).

As we think about how to improve our organizations we have to have an appreciation for complexity. That means we must let go of our intense desire for certainty about everything we do. We must change our gaze from 1:1 cause and effect relationships to understanding how components are connected and constantly influencing each other (basically, if you think your intervention is going to impact only one specific outcome then you aren’t thinking with an appreciation for complexity).

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Clear cause and effect relationships, predictable, and therefore repairable by straightforward means.

Leaders have to accept that trying to micromanage the people and teams within an organization is a useless endeavor. Together, everyone in an organization needs to work toward identifying and codifying the “simple rules” that promote the outcomes necessary for business success without trying to dictate the specific path everyone will take to get there.

What’s Next?

These are two of the foundational ideas employees really need to get if they’re going to help craft their organizations to meet the demands and opportunities of the outside environment. Great organizations are filled with incredibly smart people who, under traditional expectations, are never actually tapped to change the system in which they are operating. It’s a waste of talent to not have every single person thinking like an org designer — looking for ways to improve process, to improve structure, to create better environments for great work, to capture tensions that can be channeled into productive change.

The first key is to know the difference between working in and working on the organization and the second key is to have a basic appreciation for how complex adaptive systems work. In Part Two I’ll dive deeper into the human side of thinking about org design — the importance of growth mindset and the power of believing people are fundamentally “good” even without omnipresent/explicit punishments and incentives (and what goes wrong when that fundamental belief isn’t present).

In the meantime, I’m going to set aside the obvious research I still need to do about my future llama-based endeavor and get back to helping all my clients find me unnecessary in the (hopefully) not so distant future.

Ready to change how you work? The Ready helps complex organizations move faster, make better decisions, and master the art of dynamic teaming. Contact us to find out more. While you’re at it, sign up to get our newsletter This Week @ The Ready delivered to your inbox every week.

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Thanks to Ali for the editing help.

Today Is My Last Day as a PhD Student

I am now a statistic I swore I would never be. I am one of the roughly 50% of PhD students who never actually graduate.

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And while the bulk of that number is created through a frightening mix of toxic grad school environments and mental health lapses I’m happy to report that my decision is coming from a (mostly) much more optimistic place — I’m doing my dream job and can’t reasonably become great at it while also trying to finish my PhD.

Nonetheless, this will inevitably raise eyebrows among my friends, family, and colleagues so I thought I’d collect my thoughts in one place.

There is no easy answer to the question, “Why?” so bear with me while I unpack the question a little bit (this is going to be long, rambling, and navel gaze-y but given the weight of the decision I’m giving myself some leeway).

On the Path

In 2009 I graduated from Bowling Green State University with a degree in secondary social studies education. While excited to kickoff my career as a high school teacher I also graduated into one of the worst recessions of recent memory. After failing to land a full time teaching job in time for the 2009–2010 school year I knew I needed a long term project to work on while substitute teaching. That long term project took two forms: becoming the head hockey coach of the University of Detroit Mercy hockey team and starting a website about personal development/minimalism called The Simpler Life.

I worked on that website basically every day for the next two years. I wrote hundreds of thousands of words, two self-published e-books, and even became somewhat known in the “minimalism blogger” scene at that time. I was still substitute teaching and coaching hockey during but my real passion was learning and writing about personal development. My website was getting tens of thousands of hits every month and every day I didn’t substitute teach I was thrilled to spend my day researching and writing.

After again failing to find a full-time teaching job for the 2010–2011 school year I became even more disillusioned with that as a potential career path. I kept coaching and writing and picking up subbing jobs in order to pay my rent. I did eventually land a full-time emergency sub job that kept me in the same classroom for the better part of three months. One of the truisms of teaching is that the first year is always brutally hard. I would say your first year is even harder if your first full time gig is as an emergency sub. It was incredibly difficult and frustrating and even though I ultimately think I did a very good job I knew my future was not going to be as a high school social studies teacher.

Luckily, I kept my website going during this time and my writing interest had largely shifted away from minimalism and more into the realm of personal development. On a whim I read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow and noticed that Mike was the founder of a field called positive psychology and taught at a graduate school in California called Claremont Graduate University. I finally had a name for what had fascinated me for the better part of three years and had driven me to write over 200 articles on the topic — positive psychology. I knew I had to apply.

I was accepted into the positive developmental psychology master’s program despite having almost no psychology experience and embarked on maybe the best two years of my life. I didn’t have a crystal clear plan for my future but I was still writing on the website and had even started up a small coaching practice and worked my way up from a handful of pro bono clients in 2011 to a full roster of paying clients in 2013 when I graduated. The success of my coaching practice and a couple classes that touched on positive psychology in the organizational realm made me realize I wanted a career that dealt with “making work better” for people.

I’d always been fascinated by how people work. The interest in minimalism and personal development was driven by a desire to understand human excellence. Why did some of my classmates excel and some didn’t? Why did some of my students seem to work hard even when they didn’t have the apparent natural talents of some of their peers? Why did some of my less talented youth hockey teammates end up playing professionally while some of the more talented youngsters not make it as far?

Being the entrepreneurial guy that I am I decided that the best path for me to do that would be to start my own consulting firm built on the back of everything I was learning as a positive psychology graduate student. Given the fact that my previous professional experience was as a high school teacher I was exceedingly self-conscious about beginning to position myself as any kind of organizational expert. To combat this lack of experience I decided the logical next step was to get my PhD in positive organizational psychology. So, I applied to the program, was accepted, and made the switch from positive developmental to positive organizational psychology.

Shortly after kicking off my first year in the PhD program (but third year in graduate school) I started a consulting firm with my classmate, Jeff. For the next year and a half we dedicated ourselves to finishing our coursework, developing our theses, and building our small company. I was happy. I was challenged. We didn’t see other consulting companies positioning themselves the way we were with a strong foundation in science.

And then everything changed.

A colleague I was working with on a freelance consulting assignment for David Allen sent me the website of a consulting company in New York called Undercurrent. Over the course of an hour or so I read through their entire website and experienced something extremely similar to when I read Flow for the first time. I suddenly had words for something I had felt for a very long time. I realized that there were other people in the world who thought about organizational consulting the way that I did. I realized that Undercurrent was basically what I wanted my tiny little consulting firm to be but was light years ahead of us.

In an instant my plan to build my own consulting company on the back of my PhD work was thrown into question. I wanted to work for Undercurrent and I wanted to work for them badly.

Over the next nine months I slowly convinced them that they needed somebody with my skill set. Eventually, I wore them down and in July of 2015 I joined them in New York City.

At this time I felt confident that I could continue my PhD work successfully while working full time in a new job. I mean, I was studying self-leadership. If anybody could develop the routines and discipline to juggle work and PhD it would be me, right? At the time I had just finished collecting data for my thesis and had a handful of portfolio projects left (a qualitative research project, an online course teaching myself some basic programming, and my review paper) before I would be eligible to do my oral qualifying exam and then my dissertation proposal.

Over the next few months my life was thrown into turmoil. Without going into too much detail (I’ve written about it elsewhere) I did the

following: moved from Southern California to NYC (driving by myself from SoCal to Detroit and then flying to NYC), moved into a sublet in NYC (having never lived in or really visited the city nor knowing anybody who lived there), started a new job, spent a week in London getting up to speed on a project for the aforementioned new job, was laid off from that job the day I returned from London (which also happened to be the day I moved into my new year long apartment lease), worked as a freelancer for about a month and a half while also trying to look for a new full-time job (while also trying to learn a new city and furnish a new apartment), finally landed a job with a company called The Ready that was even better than the job I originally had, and then immediately dove into leading a new project with a client that had me spending the majority of my time in Chicago. It was a hectic time, to say the least. And, as you can imagine, I didn’t get much PhD work done.

Even though I wasn’t sitting down and working on it very regularly, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about it. In fact, quite the opposite.

My PhD work never left my mind. It has been a constant anchor of guilt and anxiety that was never far away.

I’ve made concerted efforts to work on it. I’ve set aside weekends and stayed late at the office and have even booked hotels and out of state travel to create a sense of urgency and professionalism toward working on my school projects. I’ve made some progress, but never quite enough to feel good.

Thoughts on Earning a PhD and Working Your Dream Job

Now that I’ve covered the history of how I’ve gotten to this point I want to hit a few of the specific things I’ve been thinking about.

Opportunity Cost

Opportunity cost is essentially everything you give up when you decide to do something or purchase something. It’s everything you can’t do based on something you decide to do. When I wasn’t working full-time the opportunity cost of working on my PhD work was things like leisure activities, working on my website, or taking on another coaching client. Working on my PhD always felt like the most important thing I should be doing and my life was organized in such a way that it almost always made the most sense for me to be working on it (that’s the beauty of being a full-time student).

Now, things are much different. When you work a demanding full-time job the opportunity cost to working on PhD work before or after the normal work day or on the weekend feels much costlier. Leisure time is still an opportunity cost but it is much less optional than it was when I was a full time student. Not getting leisure time, or more accurately, restoration time, means not being at the top of my game when it comes to work.

Being the only employee for awhile and now being part of a small team means that The Ready can’t afford for me to not be at the top of my game. I spend a lot of time in front of executives and if I’m not operating at full capacity I run the real risk of embarrassing myself and embarrassing the company. It’s not about not having enough time to play video games or sit around doing nothing. It’s about being a functioning adult. It’s about my mental health.

Another opportunity cost that has come to feel extremely expensive is that every time I sit down to work on my PhD work I’m not using that time developing skills or knowledge directly related to my work. Of course there are always indirect benefits to working on PhD stuff that will filter down into my actual work, but that feels like slight compensation when I could be doing something much more beneficial.

For example, to continue my PhD work I need to get much better at statistical analysis. However, I will never use this specific knowledge in my line of work and taking the time to teach myself the stats I need takes away from developing more specific consulting skills or knowledge (like developing my ability to give great talks or learning more about corporate structure or developing my coaching skills or the eleventeen other consulting-specific skills I need to master).

It sucks to feel like every time I’m doing PhD work I’m falling behind in getting better at my job. This would be acceptable if I was working in a job that wasn’t quite what I wanted to be doing and finishing my PhD would open the door to what I actually wanted to do — but fortunately for me (and unusually for most PhD students) that’s not the case.

This is my dream job. This is why I joined the PhD program in the first place. Letting my PhD work get in the way of becoming absolutely excellent at it is silly and wrong.

Grit, Stubbornness, and Continuous Steering

One of the concepts we teach organizations and teams at The Ready is “continuous steering.” It’s the simple idea that you need to be seeking and using data to make better decisions. Great teams and organizations know what data can inform whether they are getting closer to their purpose and they act on that data frequently. Without continuous steering it’s easy to ignore what’s happening around you even if it might be useful and relevant data. If you don’t continuously steer you may find yourself reaching a goal that is no longer meaningful or useful.

Continuing to work on my PhD feels like it would require me to forget the concept of continuous steering and to ignore all the data around me telling me this isn’t what I should be doing.

On the other hand, grit. I love grit. I love the idea of being gritty. But the balance between grittiness and stubbornness is only revealed in retrospection. So, even though I consider myself a gritty person I can’t let that overwhelm all the other data I’m receiving telling me I need to make a change.

Essentialism & Making Tough Decisions

My original website that set me along this path was all about minimalism and although I don’t write about it every day it’s still a huge part of who I am and how I see myself and the world. Being a minimalist is about being willing to say no to really, really, good things in order to say “hell yes” to the truly great things. I can’t say hell yes to my PhD work and my job even though I want to. And if I have to choose between the two then I’m going to say hell yes to the job. And if I’m going to say hell yes to the job that means the PhD is just really good.

Which means it must go.

What I Know I’m Going to Have to Come to Terms With

I loved being able to say I’m a PhD student. Being able to say you’re working on a PhD feels good. People look at you with admiration (and sometimes pity). You get to feel smart. I’m going to have to remake that part of my identity.

Did I quit because I suck at stats? This actually gets to my thoughts about opportunity cost earlier in the article. As of right now, my stats acumen is not high. In order to get through the rest of my PhD work I would need to invest some real time in getting better at stats. Do I have any doubt that if I invested the time and energy that I would become competent (or even excellent) at statistical analysis? No. I can learn anything. However, stats is not something that I will use in my job so every minute spent working on it feels even more costly than anything else I could be doing. I’m no longer willing to pay that cost.

Am I letting my advisor down? Absolutely. She has put a lot of work into my training up to this point. I admire the work she does and I know I will continue to learn from her and her research. While it sucks to let people you care about down it’s also not possible to finish a PhD just so I don’t disappoint people.

What about student loans? Claremont Graduate University is a private institution and I have the student loans to prove it. I’m fortunate to live frugally and work in a lucrative field. I’ll be okay.

Going to graduate school was the best decision I ever made. Being a PhD student in positive psychology definitely opened the doors that led to me doing what I do now. I still think positive psychology is the most fascinating field and the backbone of my current and future work.

So, What Now?

I’m going to keep learning: Learning will always be part of my job and part of what I love to do. I won’t stop learning just because I’m not earning a PhD anymore. In fact, I’ll probably read wider and with much less guilt than I have been for the past year and a half.

I’m going to chill the hell out: I’m going on my first legitimate vacation in a long time. I’m not going to have PhD work hanging over my head. I’m not going to have work hanging over my head. I’m going to recharge and it’s going to be glorious.

I’m going to take care of myself: I’m at least 15 pounds heavier than I should be. For the past year I’ve consciously chosen to place less attention and energy on my physical health in order to make time for my PhD work. I’m going to reinvest this newly released energy into getting healthier.

And I’m going to dive into pushing the field of organization design forward: This is arguably what I’m most excited about. I now have one singular focus — to make an impact in the field of organization design and to help make The Ready the premiere force in org design consulting. For the past year I’ve felt like I had to hold part of myself back in order to save enough energy to work on my PhD. That’s no longer the case. Now I can use all of my creative effort in building my career and my chosen field. It feels incredible.

The purpose of my PhD was always to help me be able to do the exact work I’m currently doing. I was just fortunate to not have to make it all the way to the end to have that become my reality.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me to this point and I apologize to anyone I’ve disappointed.

Onward!

Consistency Even Over Tinkering

Remember that big Google software/Apple hardware experiment I wrote about doing awhile ago? Yeah, it’s over now.

The setup was more or less fine but something didn’t feel right:

“I deeply admire people who create productive and useful routines for themselves and then stick to them without fail. That kind of discipline seems both otherworldly and incredibly important. For the next three months I’m going to explore a variety of different places in my life where I can install automation, routines, and rituals that can become habits.”

I wrote that. See the problem here?

The whole point of the quarterly retrospective and the creation of priority statements to guide my decision making for next three months is that if I don’t actually use them to guide my behavior then there’s really not much point in doing the exercise. As much as I tried to convince myself that sticking with this experiment for the next three months aligned with my stated priority I knew I was wrong. Completely changing my tech stack is pretty much the opposite of being consistent.

Therefore, I’ve reverted back to the majority of the apps I was using prior to my little experiment. And let me tell you, it’s like pulling on my favorite hoodie on a chilly afternoon. It just feels good and right.

I still stand behind the idea that making decisions about hardware and software is kind of like optimally equipping a video game character and I’ll still be experimenting with the best setup for me — I’ll just wait until one of my priority statements isn’t one that expressly challenges me to be consistent instead of farting around with new and unfamiliar things.

Anyway, back to being boring. — at least until July 1st!

Google Software & Apple Hardware: Week 2

I just wrapped up my second week of going all-in on my Google software/Apple hardware experiment and I have some more thoughts (observations from my first week are here):

  1. Google News is an ugly app and I don’t really have a place for it in my tech life. I just don’t consume news that way (or really at all).

  2. I really like Google Keep on iOS. I don’t like it on OS X, though. The way I like to use apps like this requires it to be simply a keystroke away (capturing quick thoughts) and the fact that it lives in my browser adds friction to me getting to it quickly.

  3. Oh, but there is one thing about Google Keep that’s mad annoying — the fact that if you want checkboxes in a note then every line in the note has a checkbox. You can’t mix normal text and checkboxes. I have some templates that have headings and text that I don’t want checkboxes next to but that isn’t something I can do in Google Keep, apparently.

  4. Having two Google identities (my personal and my work) is getting tiresome. I keep realizing I’m signed into the wrong one. Granted, it’s pretty simple and easy to fix but if the whole point is to be funneling a ton of data into one account (the personal) every time I realize I haven’t been signed into it I feel like I’m wasting my time.

  5. Google Maps still seems better than Apple Maps in most ways — except (obviously) Apple Watch support. There’s no Glance for it and it seems like I basically have to keep relaunching the app to give me up to date walking directions? This isn’t a huge deal though since the iOS app is so good.

  6. There are some rough edges around a few of the iOS apps. At one point I wanted to split screen Google Hangouts and Chrome on my iPad Air 2. No dice.

  7. At first I was annoyed that using Google Photos seemed to imply that I’d have to duplicate my photo pruning efforts across it and my Apple Photos library. However, it looks like if I do the editing in Google Photos first (like deleting a photo) it will do the same thing to the camera roll on my phone, thus keeping my Apple Photos library synced. At least, I think.

  8. Bumping into some annoyances with having two Google accounts in terms of the Google Drive client on OS X. It seems like you can’t have multiple Google Drive folders on one computer meaning that I have my work account Google Drive accessible through the Finder but not my personal account. I actually use both a lot so it’d be nice to be able to flip back and forth between them without having to open the browser.

  9. I was flying last week and couldn’t get Chrome on my laptop to connect to the Gogo landing page to connect to the wi-fi. Safari didn’t have a problem with it.

  10. Google Play Music has been pretty great so far. No real complaints to speak of.

  11. I finished a book in the Google Play Books app on iOS and didn’t really have any complaints with it. It was a little bit slower than iBooks or the Kindle app but if I could only read books through this app from now on I wouldn’t be devastated. Although, the recommendations at the end of the book were pretty bad (“Oh, you read a biography of Steve Jobs? You should read the same biography but in Spanish!”)

  12. Here’s what my iPhone home screen looks like now (here’s what it looked like when I started this experiment). I’ve moved some of the less used Google apps into a folder (but they are still on the home screen):

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Home screen as of 4/9/2016

I also realized that this whole project of trying out different hardware/software combos kind of flies in the face of two of my second quarter priority statements (“consistency even over spontaneity” and “closing loops even over indulging curiosity”). I’m trying to figure out how to reconcile this conundrum and as of right now I think my answer is to actually stick with this Google/Apple setup for the next three months (which is when I will revisit my priority statements and create new ones). I originally envisioned this project as changing my setup every month or so but I think I might be able to have better insights and a better sense of what does and doesn’t work with a particular setup if I stick with it for longer.

As always, if you are a Google master and I’m obviously thinking about something incorrectly or doing it wrong please leave a comment and set me on the right path!

Closing Loops, Sleeping, and PhD Failure. A Look at Some Priorities.

Every three months I take stock of how my life is going and figure out some statements I can use to guide my behavior and decisions. The structure of these statements, something I learned from Holacracy, take the form of “Good Thing #1 even over Good Thing #2.” we tend to throw the word “priority” around with abandon without actually attaching much meaning to it. But if something is truly a priority then it means you are willing to give up other good things in order to pursue it.

A Recap of My First Quarter Priorities

1. Sleep even over feeling productive

Near the end of 2015 I developed a new appreciation for the power of getting enough sleep. I decided to explicitly focus on getting enough sleep for the first three months of 2016 even over feeling productive. I have gotten into situations in the last where I would stay up extremely late and/or get up extremely early in order to “be productive.” No more! At least 7 hours of sleep per night is what I need to feel good and I couldn’t let things get in the way of that requirement.

According to my sleep data I averaged just over 7 hours for all three months. This is mostly a function of doing a decent job at going to bed on time and having a job where I have leeway in terms of when I get to the office. I explored using a sleep mask in order to have total darkness but I discovered I hated the feeling of something on my face while I slept. I also tried using blue light blocking glasses in the evening which I’m not sure helped. I also tried to do a better job of winding down in the evening by not looking at devices right before bed and drinking sleep inducing tea. My adherence to that routine was kind of hit and miss so I’m going to keep playing with it. Overall, I’d give myself an A in this priority.

2. Nutrition even over convenience

When I moved to NYC I quickly learned about the glory of Seamless. Even though I love cooking I got sucked into the convenience and allure of simply tapping a couple buttons and having delicious food delivered to my apartment. My lazy side came out in a big way. I realized I needed to nip this habit in the bud especially since I had consciously decided not to worry about working out for the next few months. If I kept that routine going I would have easily gained some serious weight.

The goal was to cook more and use Seamless and eat out less. My success with this was hit and miss. Looking through the history on my Seamless app I see I ordered food 14 times between January 1st and March 31st. That’s roughly once per week. From September through November 2015 I ordered food 21 times. The other relevant metric, weight, also went in the right direction. I started January 1st at roughly 204 pounds and finished the three months at 200 (even getting as low as 194 in early March — some business travel later in the month got me headed in the wrong direction again). Considering I went to the gym a grand total of 0 times the past few months and ran 0 miles the fact that I’m not 220 pounds right now is a win. Overall, I’d give myself a B on this one.

3. PhD even over all other extracurriculars

This was the big one. I needed to truly prioritize my PhD work over other fun things. This meant saying no to cool opportunities in order to buckle down on my PhD responsibilities. I did a pretty good job on the saying no part. Eric and I paused The File Drawer on my request (although we are restarting it soon!), I turned down some requested coaching, I punted some decisions to April, and I said no to a handful of interesting projects. Unfortunately, that didn’t translate into meaningful PhD progress. I received a draft of my thesis from my advisor in January with many comments and I still haven’t finished responding to all of them and resubmitting the draft. This is a pretty monumental failing on my part. One thing I did well, though, was scheduling a PhD retreat away from the city where I intend to finish my thesis. Overall, I give myself a D on this one.

My Second Quarter Priorities

1. Closing loops even over indulging curiosity

I go through a basic cycle where I get excited by all sorts of things and start doing and trying a whole bunch of different stuff. Before too long I start to feel like I have too much going on and I go through a period of focus. I’m currently deep in the midst of one of those expansive periods and it’s time for me to do some pruning. For the next few months I’m going to focus exclusively on finishing things I’ve already started.

I’m also going to focus on closing as many “infinite loops” as possible, too. An infinite loop is something like email or a social media feed that can never actually be truly finished. It’s always replenishing itself. I think a key part of my mental health resides not only in closing the discrete open loops like a project or a video game but also in limiting the number of infinite loops I allow as well.

2. Consistency even over spontaneity

I deeply admire people who create productive and useful routines for themselves and then stick to them without fail. That kind of discipline seems both otherworldly and incredibly important. For the next three months I’m going to explore a variety of different places in my life where I can install automation, routines, and rituals that can become habits. What I eat, how I dress, how I work — every area of my life is ripe for experimentation.

3. Clean lines even over integration

I have a hypothesis that not creating clear distinctions between work and leisure is profoundly draining. I’ve particularly noticed this with my PhD work. I haven’t created a distinct place for it to live in my psyche or work routine so any time I’m not actively working on it I have a low-level sense of unease or guilt permeating everything I’m doing. I go back and forth between work-life balance and work-life integration. For the next few months I’m going to walk down the path of separation and balance instead of integration: Normal and sane work hours, active and deliberate leisure, and heads down work when I’m actually supposed to be working.

Week 1 in the Google Universe: Thoughts and Observations

I’m in the midst of a personal experiment revolving around my hardware/software setup. I’m trying an approach where I use all Apple Hardware with as heavy a use of Google services and software as possible. You can read more about the project in the introductory article.

Every week or so I dump all my thoughts/questions/observations about how the project is going. Please leave comments if you have suggestions for things I can do better or have answers to the questions I’m posing.

  • I have two Google accounts. My personal one I’ve had forever and a work Google Apps account. I’ve decided to login to the vast majority of the apps and services using my personal account as opposed to my work account. My main concern is that if I used my work account as the account that logged in to everything if I ever lost access to that account all the data I had been piping into that setup would be gone and I’d have to start from scratch. Given how important that data is that seems like a bad idea.

  • I’m using the official Google apps everywhere I can which means I’m using the Gmail and Google Calendar apps. I realize I could just use Google as the backend for 3rd party apps but I’m trying to stick as closely as possible to the “only Google” rule for right now. However, there appears to be no Google Calendar app for iPad, so I’m using Fantastical with Google powering the backend.

  • I’ve turned on all notifications, which isn’t my normal approach, but I’m having visions of the Google apps pushing me all sorts of useful information eventually. We shall see…

  • I’m thinking about buying a Chromecast to try out using Google media on my TV at home.

  • I miss Byword. It’s the app I use to do most of my writing. I’m forcing myself to use Google Docs for now. The added friction between deciding to write something and being on a screen where I can start typing (as compared to Byword) is a little bit annoying.

  • I installed the Google+ app and poked around for a few minutes and I can almost 100% say for sure that this will not become a key part of my online life. Is there any way to make this not terrible?

  • There are some apps and services where network effects will prevent me from changing. I can’t ask my friends and family to only contact me on Hangouts instead of iMesssge, obviously.

  • Some of the apps really aren’t replacing anything for me because I just don't use that type of app usually (like Google News). However, I’m committing to experimenting with them to see if they can play a role in how I work.

  • I’m committing to give all of these apps as much information as possible so they can hopefully use all their connections to the fullest extent.

  • Apps I will continue using because there is no Google option — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Slack, Overcast, Instapaper, Things… (are there Google replacements for any of these?)

  • It’s annoying to not be able to buy a book from inside the Play Books app on my iPad (I know it’s an Apple thing but it’s still annoying).

  • Saving syncs and annotations from Play Books to Google Drive automatically is kind of a cool idea.

  • Play Books is much slower switching from portrait to landscape and vice versa on my iPad than iBooks or the Kindle app.

  • The Waze app was pretty great last weekend when I was driving a rental car for a few hours. Pretty cool to have the app tell you to be aware of a stopped car on the shoulder or a police car up ahead and inevitably see them shortly thereafter. If I drove more I’d probably like this app a lot more.

  • When should I be using Google News vs. Play Newsstand? They seem to duplicate a lot of basic functionality.

  • I like Google Keep and Google Play Music quite a bit so far.

  • Google Now has done two cool things so far. It prompted me to leave for the airport at a pretty great time and it reminded me that the Red Wings had a game starting soon. I didn’t explicitly tell it to do either of those things but they were both welcome notifications to receive.