Something I keep learning over and over again

Yesterday I read my journal from two years ago. I was looking for clues to what I did that had made me so much more productive during that time. I was surprised to learn that it wasn’t something I did, but something I avoided.

When I browser through my journal, I kept finding thoughts and projects that I was recently working on or thinking about just a few months ago. This shocked me. Was I stuck in a rut? Just rehashing the same ideas over and over again, never shipping and moving on?

For the past two years I’ve been working full time as a consultant. I’ve done some good work, but I’ve also worked with big corporate customers and apparently, that has rubbed off on me. I’ve been so caught up in the stressful day to day, that I haven’t made much real progress. Comparing to my journal, I’ve made maybe 3 months worth of progress in the past 24 months…

This must change. Life is too short.

So borrowing some ideas from Julian Shapiro’s excellent kick in the ass Mental Models article, I will apply some real strategy and discipline to my work. Starting yesterday. I sincerely hope I don’t need to learn this again.

Humanising phone calls and Twitter

I only just discovered this article on Wired where the author tweets out her phone number and rediscovers humanity by talking to people. So far I loved it. She portrayed twitter as the dehumanizing force that it is usually portrayed as these days, and I was feeling convinced.

At the end, she wrote:

I’ve always loved talking on the phone. I adore the subtle ways a phone call can evoke intimacy. You hear the cracks in a voice, the sound of breath, and the patience of thinking.

Which at first made me nostalgic for long phone calls and my teenage years. Then I recognised the very human trait she was describing. I think Douglas Adams said it best:

I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.

2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.

3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

The wired author isn’t wrong. I recognise the feeling, and now I’m interested in tweeting out my own number… But I would guess that we are of the same generation. As usual, the medium is not the message.

The How

I’m always looking for ways to be better at doing things. Recently I’ve been think a lot about Basecamp’s “hill charts”. The idea is a progress displayed on a bell curve, where the first half is Defining the project, and the second half Executing on the project. Normally only the executing is taken into account.

This morning I realized that a lot of my procrastination with important tasks is about not knowing How I should do the task. It took me a few minutes before I realized; this is the problem that hill charts are solving for projects. I should apply this to smaller tasks, or projects, as well.

I’m slowly learning that understanding takes a while to happen. Merely thinking through an idea is only the first step.

Creative Time instead of ToDo lists

Even though I’ve managed to ship quite a few things in recent years I struggle to find the time for my personal projects. It’s not that I’m unorganised, I have an ordered list of things to do next. It’s not that there’s no time, I’ve been a minimalist for many years and I’ve cut our most time thieves from my life. But I still struggle.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while and Charbel, a designer I admire and was fortunate enough to have as a mentor through 500 startups, shared this insight with me:

I spent a day or so thinking about this before I realised that I might not be able to do my creative work when I’m blasting through todos while low on energy.

That’s why I’m testing out a new thing. Starting this week I’m no longer planning out my personal projects too much. Instead I’m planning Creative Time, and picking any project that excites me, and I’m working on that. The focus is going to be on always shipping something, but since excitement often wanes, the things I ship will probably be small.

I’ll try this strategy for a month and let you know.

The best advice

This is a full blogpost from JSomers, I found it so valueable, I wanted to both store it here for my memory’s sake, as well as share it:

These are excerpts (emphasis mine) from William James’s 1890 classic, Principles of Psychology, Chapter IV, “Habit”:

  1. The great thing, then, in all education, is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy. It is to fund and capitalize our acquisitions, and live at ease upon the interest of the fund.
  2. For this we must make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us, as we should guard against the plague. The more of the details of our daily life we can hand over to the effortless custody of automatism, the more our higher powers of mind will be set free for their own proper work.
  3. Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make, and on every emotional prompting you may experience in the direction of the habits you aspire to gain. It is not in the moment of their forming, but in the moment of their producing motor effects, that resolves and aspirations communicate the new ‘set’ to the brain.
  4. No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one’s sentiments may be, if one have not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may remain entirely unaffected for the better.
  5. As a final practical maxim, relative to these habits of the will, we may, then, offer something like this: Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically ascetic or heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than that you would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved.

Original post here.

Tired or Bored?

SometImes I find myself completely drained. Devoid of any initiative or sense of purpose, I struggle to do even the fun things. I’m not talking about depression, just evenings or parts of days where I have no energy.

I’ve always thought that this means I’m tired. That I need to rest more, or better, and allow myself to come back naturally. I am, after all, not getting any younger.

But a thought hit me earlier. This never happens when I’m doing stuff and actually completing things. And as a former cognitive psychology student I know that motivation comes after action, not the other way around..

So I have this vague suspicion that maybe I’m not tired. Maybe I’m just bored. Not bored as “in need of entertainment”, but bored as in “my life is on rails”.

Maybe I need to do more challenging things. Or maybe I just need to sleep more. How do you tell the difference?