The Conflict of Online Social Networks

With this new year rolling out, I find myself coming back to a topic of personal improvement that has been on my mind for a while: Social Networks. How they appropriately can support relationships and communication, and how they detract from relationships and communication.

It’s been said a number of times that people actually find themselves isolated from a physical social life when using online social networks, in some cases, even doing so in place of interacting with people in the physical realm. While there is a bump of excitement when friends like or comment on an update we posted to our Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Vine, Youtube, Snapchat, LinkedIn, Flickr, etc. (and in some cases strangers or exclusively virtual acquaintances), the long term value really doesn’t work out to much more than this little emotional bump. And then it’s gone, with nothing left, not memories, no stories to pass along. Quite an empty social interaction really.

Personally, I haven’t read about any studies on the effects of using social networks versus spending time with people face to face, but recently I began to look back through all the time I’ve invested into social networks, the people I have connected with there, what I get out of it, and then I looked back at my face to face world; similar to the social network parts: the time I invest, the people I connect with, and what I get out of them. Turns out, from the online social networks, the biggest value has been that people know what I’m up to, and I know some of the things going on in their life too. That’s about it. Aggravating this, turns out, with all the algorithms managing the things we get in our social network “feeds”, we’re not even getting all of the updates from our friends, just those programmed to meet our ‘expectations’ for things we would like to see, based on some programmers work. In the face to face realm, the people that I spend time with is far fewer compared to the online group, but those that I do see and speak to, provide more important moments for me. Turns out, there’s a lot of people who will take time to connect and communicate with me online, but have never once made the effort to do anything with me in person. No coffee chats. No parties. No help with work or personal life issues. That’s something I seek to change.

I just finished a year off from work and when I got back I pursued finding work aggressively, online and offline. The online efforts got me one small job, but the offline efforts, even those like walking up and down the street talking with businesses, got me multiple jobs, which have been worth easily 8-10 times more value than the one job I found online. That’s right, the return on investment in face to face time got me more work than the efforts I made online. And believe me I spent a lot of time generating some opportunities online. I guess the people who I could meet in person had a stronger impression and really focused on my needs. Those online, might have been too distracted, or I wasn’t communicating properly through the text and updates, etc. Who knows. The results are still obvious.

This wasn’t a scientific experiment, surely there are many opportunities for people to explore online alone, with no need to leave their computer. But there are just as many people baffled by the dependance of others to online networking and communication dependance. And those people trust a face they met in person, and would rather discuss important topics than spell it all out in an email, or schedule a video chat.

I know I’m not alone, many folks feel the pain of the rush to be online, some are just over whelmed with all the things that can be done online now. Many get by still just fine with brick and mortal style, it’s nice to see. But then there are all the others who I know I will not stay in touch with unless I stay online. And that’s the thing that’s on my mind the most now. How offline can I be and not fall out of touch? Should I just go 95% offline, saving the few moments I do login, to reply to email and respond to a Facebook message or some other online only activity? I would like to stay offline. In my own experiment, I will focus in doing more offline. We’ll see how it goes. I hope I can offer some more insights on that.

I’ll keep you posted.

 

Everything you do in life, is an investment

I want to be wealthy.

scrooge-mcduck-swimming_300px

I want to be super filthy, Scrooge McDuck, swimming in money rich.

Only, it’s not money that I want.

Money alone clearly doesn’t add value to a person’s life. Don’t believe me? Google: “lottery winners lives ruined”, enough said. And if that seems like a cop out to you, just look around for stories of the complicated lives of billionaires. Sure money can help. Private jets are awesome (at least skipping TSA and baggage claim sounds nice). But wealth is not the happiness and great life in a jar it can be objectified as.

No. I want to be rich in what I’ll call “life assets”.

The life assets I want are: skills, stories, friends, family, memories, great meals, and health. You get the idea. I also believe that when you’re rich in those things, you will be successful in life. After all, happiness is probably the greatest measure of success in my book. If you are gaining all those things in your life, you’re bound to be happy.

Attributes in life as assets

So then, entertain this concept; if you can be rich with life assets, then can’t we say there is some unit of measure for those things? Perhaps no unit we’ll all agree on like we agree on the unit of $1, but at least, the idea that one can have many friends, or very few. If I speak three languages and you only speak two, would you then agree that I have a greater wealth in language than you? Or perhaps, you, on average, spend several hours a week with various friends, while I barely have time to see one. Maybe in that case I am lacking in friendship wealth, at least time with friends, compared to you.

Your life assets as investments

If that all still makes sense, I now propose one more concept to branch off the last. If you can have a surplus of these life assets, can’t you also invest in them? That’s easy to agree on, right? You can learn to cook a new meal, make a new friend at work. Get married! These are all investments in your life assets. Hell! They are investments in your life! And if you keep track of them, and watch them grow. Continue to feed them, just like a monetary asset, they will get greater and greater and pay dividends.

Investing in life assets as a way of life

I want to propose that we use this concept of investing in life assets, as a way of making good decisions. When trying to decide what to do with your time, be it work, sleep, exercise, eating, catch up with friends, consider each of them as assets. Think about which ones are lacking in the distribution of time you can give them that will in turn keep them healthy and make them grow. I think this method will make it easy to choose what is better, to go for a walk or call a relative, instead of say… watching TV 😉

Final thought: strong life assets tend to also mean longer life

You’ve probably heard of centenarians; people who live past 100 years old. National Geographic did a great profile of the three poster child communities. In Sardinia, Okinawa, and Loma Linda, California. If you look at the attributes of the people from those groups, they all share some commonalities; community and or close family. Daily exercise. Great diets (read: not dieting –they simply eat healthy food regularly, rather than as a way to lose weight). And they all have a sense of purpose (described as having a life worth living). These people all invest in their life assets daily, they maintain low levels of stress. They use their bodies and minds, and they have great nutrition. And that keeps their organs healthy and functioning.

From a different perspective, but not a different side of the coin. When a palliative nurse heard the thoughts of people on their death beds, their thoughts were eerily connected to this subject. They wished they’d focused more on being happy, worked less, spent more time with friends, and had more courage.

So, even if you aren’t the Warren Buffet among your peers. You probably have many valuable assets, that can make and give you happiness. That can give you more time with the people you love. Invest in those assets, they are probably a lot less volatile than the financial markets.

Get More Time, Save Money, Eat at Home

I travel a lot, and frequently I’m traveling somewhere that there are friends to see. Inevitably the question of where to meet and what to do with said friends comes up. There are many layers of complexity to that decision, how close are we? When did we meet last? How much time do we all have to spend together? But generally, since I love all my friends, and never have enough time with them I opt for the most time possible.

In the past, meeting at a restaurant was always the go to – in our late 20’s and now early 30’s it’s been fun to choose some fancy restaurant and show off what adults we’d all become (assuming these are friends I’ve known for a while). Picking a great new place to eat was a way of showing how much style and taste we’d developed, or that we don’t have to eat pizza anymore 😛

Lately though, something’s have changed. I realized, there is so little time to see these friends, that while a swanky restaurant is a nice choice, it actually limits our ability to catch up; restaurants are often loud, and at least in the USA, once people have finished eating the check comes, and unless everyone planned to go somewhere else afterwards, that means the catch up time is coming to an end. In a typical US restaurant, that could be anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes of time together. I point out US restaurants because in Europe and other places outside the US there isn’t a rush from the waiter to leave your table so other people can sit down. Once you’re done eating you can sit and talk as long as you want regardless of what you plan to eat or drink.

The other change lately has been my budget. Since I haven’t worked in 6 months, I frequently encourage friends to find lower cost options, and typically the best available in that category is a home cooked meal. Home cooked meals are great because you can to show off your skills and adultness in a whole new way with your cooking abilities and choice of cuisine. Also unless you go all out on chic ingredients, the price can be much more modest compared to a full restaurant bill, especially if you plan to drink some wine.

Additionally, at home we have all the time in the world to catch up. No one is rushing us to leave the table, conversations can run late into the night. You can even offer a place to sleep in your home if guests don’t feel like driving home is a good idea.

You’ve probably dabbled in the art of cooking dinners with friends, so you already know what I mean. But perhaps you didn’t see it quite that way, or didn’t realize the benefit of not having to leave when the meal is over. For me the extra time is the best part of all. Life is short, I can count the past 5 encounters I’ve had will all my friends in the last 10 years, that’s scary. I fear there may only be 10 – 20 more since as life goes on we get more and more tied up, we make more and more friends, and our flexibility to meet up goes from once or twice a year to once or twice every two or three years. Make the time count, give yourselves an extra hour or two and you’ve literally doubled the amount of time you get to have in each others lives!

Simply Aiming for Cash Doesn’t Work

Looking around the landscape of startups and founders around presently, it dawned on me, the aim for many of them is simply to succeed. Their company is not one they dreamt about as little kids. The problem they solve isn’t making the world a better place. Maybe it optimizes some workflow for someone somewhere and is therefor valuable. But if you boil down what the end to those companies are, and the wins along the way they may bring, the plainest take aways are success i.e. proof he can start/operate/grow a company, and cash.

So if the company doesn’t actually fulfill the dream of the founders, and it doesn’t make the world better, why are they doing it? What is the point of earning money simply to have money? It’s an empty goal. The results of it will be empty for all involved. People should avoid taking jobs, or starting new businesses just for the money. There is no greater waste of your life than to look back at 80% of the time you had and feel like it didn’t amount to anything but cash.

Yes there are skills to learn, and perhaps you have to take one for the team so you can get to a point where starting a meaningful company, or doing something meaningful is possible. But at all costs, avoid making that huge investment. Life is beautiful, and short. There isn’t time to waste just so you can have more money.

Every single moment of time is an investment into something, whether it’s sitting in a chair and investing into a bad back and bigger waistline, or talking to someone, and investing your thoughts, and ideas into the exchange of thoughts and ideas with that person as well as your relationship with them. When a employer pays an employee to be in one place doing one thing 40 hours a week, they are investing their cash into having a warm body available to perform a task when they need it.

Try to avoid being the one that is throwing away valuable time investment dollars into someone else’s pot, unless it builds assets for you and can make you happy, it’s a waste of your investment resource of time.

How To Just Do Things – Ex: Working Out

One of my favorite books of all time is “Willpower – Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength“. This book is full of studies, and practical information relating to focus, productivity, motivation, and the science behind them, with very clear solutions for avoiding all the usually-simple pit falls that get in our way and prevent the satisfaction of being more effective, successful, and productive.

I expect to delve very deep into all of the great gems within it until every last person I know has read the book twice, but for now I’d just touch on one of the many great examples in daily life that it breaks down. That moment, where you think about something you’ve been meaning to do, perhaps an item on a written todo list, and then the moment after where you pass it off for something else, or just get distracted and move on without completing that thought.

Roy F. Baumeister breaks down from a psychological perspective what’s happening in that moment, and backs it up with studies. Essentially, when that moment happens, and we pass off the action required to pursue and execute the said todo task, it’s most likely because there is an unclear amount of sub-steps between the desired action and the current state we are in.

For example, perhaps a door in the house is squeaking, you know it needs something to make the squeaking go away, probably some general lubricant oil. Or perhaps even this basic solution isn’t known. Either way we can all agree on the desire to make it go away. Every time the door swings open, it squeaks and for that split second, the thought occurs “I want to fix that”. Just like looking in the mirror and thinking “I want to go workout today”. So what happens the next moment after that? Why does that motivation die?

Usually, Baumeister explains, there is another thought following the “I want to do X” thought, in which the very first sub-step to achieve and finish the over arching goal is identified, or attempted to be identified. And usually that sub-step actually has a subsequent step, in fact there probably several. Like, “to fix the squeak, I’ll have to find the oil” and then “I don’t know where the oil is”, or even “I know I don’t have oil, so I’ll go to the store”. That’s where the problem really lays. Because, this chain of mysterious steps, leads to even more steps, like “what kind of oil do I need?” and “is this the best price for the oil?”. It can go on an on, and usually the time, effort, and costs involved with each of these steps is much less minimal than my given example. It’s exhausting to think about, and as you probably already can relate, is too much to just do on the fly.

It’s these sub-steps that trip us up, unless we begin at the first sub-step, and focus on what comes after, we get lost in that moment, thinking about fixing the squeak, thinking about other things it requires, which make this tiny task seem like too much to deal with right now.

The solution to this problem, as outlined in Willpower, is to stop at that moment when you are focused on the issue, break down all the sub-steps, and write them down. This way, you outline a clear path to solving the problem. With this simple method, instead of thinking “I need to fix that squeak” each time you hear it, you will remember the list of steps to fixing the squeak, and if you haven’t already executed each one from #1 to completion, you’ll make a point to take the next sub-step – instead of getting lost in the indecision and fatigue that comes from having too many unknown variables packed into a tiny action. In most cases, just committing to doing the next sub-step, is an easy thing to do, and getting it done creates a feeling of satisfaction, now, there is just the next simple step, and then it’s finished, more feeling of accomplishment, and less things to think about doing. It works, try it.

Now – to make this oh so more relatable for everyone, let’s transfer this to working out. Unless you’re a personal trainer, someone who already loves exercising and has broken down all those sub-steps to make exercise a part of your life, or you’re one of the genetic-jackpot few who can eat anything and remain slim, and whose body becomes jacked after climbing a set of stairs; more likely you are one of the 75% of all humans (with an ectomorph or endomorph body type) who see’s their body in the mirror and thinks, I need to stay in shape or “man I have really let myself go these last weeks”.

I should mention that a new wave of lifestyle is on the rise where everything you do is essentially a work out, i.e. “movement”, but that is a topic for another time. And way too big of a leap for most people if they are even still following along with me in this post.

For now, let’s say, you consider a couple hours of playing some sports as your exercise, or going for a run with a friend. Maybe in your mind going to the gym is how to best get into shape for your preference. Are you doing this regularly? Maybe you realize it’s not enough, or something’s changed, you moved and you don’t know the nearest gym. Perhaps, your friends who you play sports with have all been too busy to play recently. Your work schedule could have changed and the time that you used to workout is gone, early morning is all you have and that is painful – trust me I’ve been there. I have a lot of friends who prefer to work out with a partner, and I hear frequently about said workout partner being unavailable, and this becomes an interruption for both peoples’ schedule. In any case, it’s easy to understand that once a routine is broken, making a new one doesn’t just happen while we sleep, and once again the door is squeaking…

Suddenly, the sub-steps to your workout are gone; you’re starting from square one. My biggest pet-peeve sub-step is needing to go to the gym. Most of the time, the hours in my day required to get to the gym, check in, change, use equipment that is shared with other gym members, then shower, and go home – is a huge whopping put down, it seems like a massive hassle for what may amount to be 30-60 minutes of exercise total. I just can’t deal with that much time wasted, at least in the past when free time was short, it was too much time to give up to be an acceptable option.

To make working out easier I started running. Running is great, for me the sub-steps are: free time, and running shoes. What changed in my life that made it hard was first A) having a full time job where suddenly I had to get used to running at the end of the day instead of lunch time, as I used to do when I worked from home, and then B) having a serious running related knee injury. My condition made it painful to even walk until I got through physical therapy and rehabilitated my knee back to a point where any kind of exercise, let alone walking, was possible without a shooting pain in my meniscus. Once again, I was back to square one. How could I exercise without injuring my knee again? I was terrified for years to even go for more than a short sprint, the pain from my knee injury, even after it was gone, had me convinced I may never run again (I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s true) I just couldn’t imagine a life where I had to go through that again.

Initially, I was living in a building with a gym, so I started lifting weights, learned workout routines, and the use of machines which didn’t have impact on my knees (elliptical, stationary bikes, etc), but after I moved out of that building, for the next 16 months, I had no weights or machines, or nearby gyms to use. To make matters more complicated I was working at a new startup where as co-founder, exercising was not a planned part of my typically 12-14 hour days. Now I was sitting at a desk, for long periods of time, usually eating lunch at my desk, the only exercise was my walk to work in the morning, and back again at night. I gained a lot of weight.

Eventually I came to my senses and realized all those hours at work were no good if I felt like shit. Without energy, though I might have been very excited about the company we were building, over time the effects of my crappy physical lifestyle would catchup and take a toll on my ability to be effective at work too. Sleep, diet, mind, body, work. They are all connected, you cannot just deep dive into work and have a crappy diet, little sleep, and still expect your mind or body to keep up. Even in a start up, where things move super fast, you need to have a marathon mind. Sleep under your desk all you want, the best ideas come to those who have had a good nights sleep, I promise.

So, I’m 15 pounds over my “good weight”, still need to work from 10am – 9pm or 10pm daily, what was I to do? Weekend Warrior might come to mind, the type that just hits the gym hard on the weekends. But I’ve read enough fitness studies to know this is a fast road to sports injury, that was off the list. Going to the gym or running were not an option, didn’t want the injury, didn’t want a gym membership. That’s when I got creative, I found that for the price of one months gym membership, I could have a full set of weights to work out with at home. A bar bell, two dumbbells, a little creativity in use of my home space, and suddenly there were dozens of different ways to build muscle. It wasn’t cardiovascular, but it was something. And now the sub-steps to working out were make time to work out, go to livingroom, assemble weights, workout.

I ordered the weights, they came within a week. I started waking up 2.5 hours before I had to be at work, which gave me enough time to assemble the weights, work out for 30-40 minutes, then make breakfast, then shower and walk to work. It wasn’t totally ideal, but actually the results came fast. I started building muscle. Building muscle actually helps your body burn fat instead of storing it, so my waistline started to shrink and there was even a hint of muscles in my torso, which had been gone for a long time. I started feeling stronger and better about myself. I’ve always slept well so I can’t say this improved, though I’m sure my sleep cycles had a net improvement. I started getting into the habit of waking up early which seems impossible to many, I know, unless you’ve had children (or so I’m told) getting up early unless you have to be somewhere, is not fun, or seemingly unachievable. I started to be motivated to do other physical things that improved my condition including eating healthier, where before it seemed pointless to have some sort of a fitness oriented diet, seeing signs of improvement in my condition, helped edge me further to apply that healthy mindset to other parts of my life. The absolute most important thing though was I had lots more energy, my mood was improved, and I woke up with a positive feeling, which typically didn’t emerge out of my usual grumpy self until 10 or 11. Now it took a few minutes to open my eyes, decide to get up, start lifting weights and already I wanted to take on the world.

I’ve read Willpower nearly three times, I love to dive back in and reference things in it. That being said, the act of breaking down the arduous problem of being out of shape didn’t happen with pen and paper, but in my head, as I identified the problem and had too many mornings of looking in the mirror and seeing how unhealthy my body looked, I finally did what seemed ridiculous.

I never thought of myself as a weightlifter. I don’t want to have a huge neck, or big arms. But I knew there were health, work, and life benefits to come from being in shape, not to mention being happy about how I looked in the mirror. So I thought deeper into the over-arching goal of being in shape, and realized my sub steps. Here they are as I believe they came together:

  • Step 1: I’m out of shape, I have to have a way to work out at home.
  • Step 2: I have to identify something that allows me to work out at home.
  • Step 3: I can buy a set of weights, and workout at home with those.
  • Step 4: I should shop online for a affordable weights set that I could fit in my closet or somewhere that its presence isn’t a nuisance.
  • Step 5: Wait for the weights to arrive, and assemble them.
  • Step 6: Create a routine for using the weights, ideally 2 groups of muscles to workout, alternating 2 days a week.
  • Step 7: Search on Youtube for some weight lifting routines I can do.
  • Step 8: Look up the workouts I’m going to do and make sure I can do them without hurting myself. (Seriously consider meeting with a personal trainer before doing these things on your own folks)
  • Step 9: Wake up an hour earlier twice a week, and work out.
  • Step 10: Repeat step 9.

So, that’s it, as you can see, the thought “I need to work out” can easily break down into many smaller steps, and usually it’s step 2 or 3 where we get lost, distracted, and allow something else in our lives to become the new focus of the moment. But this is how you break the cycle of incomplete todos. It works. If you don’t believe me, read Willpower and start on the chapter about this phenomenon, the studies should be proof enough.

In summary, I want to go on and talk about all the other great things that came to my life. As a direct or indirect result of finding a new way to stay in shape (so many seriously wonderful things), most obvious of all though not least important, is that the muscles I built lifting weights at home, re-enabled me to go running again within a few months! The most important and only take away from this post I hope you have if it’s just one, is the extremely effective art of avoiding your own self destructive habits, and decision fatigue, by separating out the many unexpected steps within that one todo item on your list which keeps getting put off. It will change your life I promise. People who can get things done stand out from the others, since so many suffer from the problems associated with not getting things done. If you show of this simple skill at work, with friends, and other settings, you will be recognized and rewarded. It’s just too valuable to not to be.

 

Price Increases – Determining Quality vs Poor Quality Compenisation

When shopping for a new product or service (P/S) and unfamiliar with the various brands offering them, a higher price can mean higher quality, or it can represent a compensation for having a bad P/S.

By offering a bad P/S a company must stay in business by relying on customers willing to tolerate the poor quality and higher prices, which makes up for a lower volume of sales overall, yet nets to the same income a good quality company with lower prices can earn.

As a consumer, unless quality is obvious from first glance, the only way to determine which you’re dealing with is find feedback from previously existing customers.

A Shopping Trip in Poland

Looking over what I picked up at the grocery store today in Kraków, it was a typical shopping trip. Similar to when I am living in one place, there are some things I have to pick up ever 3rd or 4th trip like a bottle of olive oil, bag of nuts, or coffee, or detergent. I also like to buy meat, but I’ve avoided that on this trip because I’m cutting down on meat, and also I’m nervous about asking for 400 grams or anything in polish 🙂 I’ll warm up to it soon…

The list:

  • 1 Red Onion
  • 1 Yellow Onion
  • 2 Grapefruit
  • 6 Mandarins
  • 2 Russet Potatoes
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Cucumber
  • 8 Eggs
  • 1 Bag Chopped Spinach Frozen
  • 5 liter bottle of water
  • 500g block, butter (like 2 american sticks)
  • 500g bag, black beans

Total cost: 49,31 zł (11€/$13)

That’s enough food to have breakfast everyday for a week, 3 – 4 lunches, and 1 – 2 dinners – all together (those possible options).

The rest of my meals will probably be out, but as each time I eat out will only cost roughly $5 on average, assuming I have ten of those meals, my total food cost this week is about $63.00. Which is a little more than three lunches or three dinners, or one three course dinner back home (Palo Alto, LA, Chicago, or New York).

I remember doing my taxes the year after living in NY. As I looked over all the restaurant and bar receipts, with taxes and tip, things really added up. Compared to my lifestyle in Germany (which was definitely on a tighter budget), I was living like a rich person.

In some weeks I’d spent $500 on food and drinks. To be fair, this isn’t an apples to apples comparison, I’m not drinking alcohol right now, and I’m probably not dining at places like The Diner in Williamsburg usually… but still it’s impressive to see how I can spend way less by factors of five or more if planned carefully and in the right country.

🙂

Understanding Fondness

Following the compass of my joy has been a central topic for me lately. In fact one could say it’s the most important issue in my life at this moment. For the last several years my compass was strong, and I was following the course, I was sure about where I was headed. Maybe I never veered, but in the last few months, it seemed like I was at a very critical turning point and following the currents of my life was the most important matter, with serious consequences if not given full attention.

So I’ve essentially put myself on an indefinite sabbatical. I’m 32, barely have any retirement savings, actually make that none. Most people don’t do what I’m doing. This for me, and feels unavoidable. If I were to continue on in the same direction unchecked, I fell as though I’d surely have gone off track; resulting in feeling lifeless and unable to do the best job I could at anything.

If I were to keep going the direction I was heading without listening very close to my instincts, I would find my soul backed into a corner, I’d be stuck in a life I don’t want, or at least, a life I didn’t actively choose, and rather fell into. Even if it had all the staples of a “good life” i.e. family, house, rewarding job, vacations, passions, etc., it would have felt like I wound up in a place I didn’t want to be in, or didn’t choose for the wanting.

I should put in a disclaimer; this is a first world problem, in fact it’s a meta-first world problem. most people never have a choice about what they do with their time, or who their family is, or what city they live in, or what size income they have. In that way I’m a spoiled brat. I’m not rich, but I am able to take time off, travel, or just fart around unharmed and that’s something most people can’t do. I am grateful.

But for clarity of the worthwhileness of this post and not wasting any time, I think there’s enough people who at certain points in their life can actively choose a direction and need to for the fulfillment in their life. It’s important to know when we’re at a junction for one of these life choices, and to follow the choice that is best for us. In my case, the choice that is best, is one where I can continue to grow as a person, where my day to day activities allow me to pursue knowledge, health, happiness, and creativity. Where I love the people I’m with, do not have to endure or create pain or harm to be with them, and we mutually benefit from each others company and support.

The process of this sabbatical has not been uniform, in a way it started months ago when I saw my role at my company waning in importance. But technically, it started yesterday, when I had finally gotten over my jet lag from flying to California from Berlin. I’m staying with my parents in Palo Alto, in the house where I grew up, sleeping in my old bedroom, removing as many external forces that cloud my focus as possible. I’m getting to the center of what I want out of my life for the next 5-20 years. There are many things to consider in this process, where should I be? What people do I need to be near? What daily activities are healthy and encourage growth? Putting it all together, what I should be doing will be very clear, that’s my guess at least.

An important development came to me this morning; I found a central point to the geography of my designs, i.e. where I would like to spend my future. It came to me by way of a creative activity. Yesterday, I went out on a photo safari, and took photos all over Downtown Palo Alto with a new 35mm camera lens, and then headed up to the dish in the Stanford Foothills to take wide angle shots during the sunset with another new 11-16mm lens. After the sun had set and I’d come home, I looked through the photos. I’d taken pictures of people, buildings, landscapes, sidewalks, streets. All of which I’d seen hundreds of times. As I enhancing the images I played with the exposure, perspectives, highlights, black and whites, and colors. Finally I choose a few to post online to share with the world. Some people are curious about Palo Alto (I figured), and some people just enjoy city scenes, architecture, and landscapes. But by morning I realized it was a cue for me. This is not where I want to spend out my days. Then and still now, the final feeling was that it was all so blah. Nothing in them sparked a fire in my mind.

Perhaps anywhere will become monotonous as my hometown feels to me; repetition destaurates mystery, and when mystery goes, so does excitement. But at least for the next 5-20 years, I cannot imagine getting much of any inspiration from the surroundings of Silicon Valley. Berlin was different. Every moment was a moment in Europe, with people who were still new to me, on bikes that are new (actually quite old), and cobblestones that I’d only seen in the days of my last two years. The weather patterns were still new to me. And this is something that is important for choosing my direction. It doesn’t mean Berlin is the only place I can live, but it helped me to understand what I need from my surroundings.

I need to be somewhere that provides a new perspective. If I can describe every detail of the surroundings, I probably know it too well, and won’t find myself pleasantly amused by ongoing discovery, and that’s something I need.

Starting a productive day

Starting a productive day

I don’t claim to be an expert in productivity. But over time I’ve noticed patterns in what helps me get things done, along with the issues that make it hard for my peers to stay on track. I had a form of home schooling for almost two years while in high school, I think this really helped me to discipline myself early on, and enabled me to work from home as a freelancer for many years later on.

Now that I’ve framed my background a little bit I’d like to put one thought or suggestion, take it as whatever you’d like, that can help to get started on the right foot, probably something I learned while carving out my working mode skills while in homeschool.

How your start your day frames how the rest of the day might go. It’s never impossible to get back into a working state of mind, but if you spend the first 30 minutes of the day at your desk dilly dallying, I think it will be much harder to get into a “Get shit done” mode.

So many thoughts and ideas swirl around when we are waking up, showering/dressing/getting ready to go to (or for homeworkers – simply to start), it’s likely some of those thoughts are there to help you finish un-started or incomplete work related tasks. Whether you are aware of it or not, your brain preps you each day to get things done. All that prepping is easily lost; if you check your email, look at the news, read a blog post or twitter feed, you are sending yourself into a tailspin that can continue for the rest of the day. Those prepped thoughts which were just under the forefront of your thoughts get lost, buried and will now be much harder to pull back up to an easily accessible place.

If you find it hard to get right into action when you’re starting your day, just try this:

  1. Make a short list of the things you need to do, it shouldn’t be longer then 3-5 tasks, if you find yourself writing more that’s ok but don’t go into over kill. Ideally the items on the list would only take you 1-2 hours to complete, or before lunch. Make sure to put something easy on there, something you can do in 5-20 minutes.
  2. Then do the easiest thing immediately.

This works wonders, because it gets your thoughts circling around what you need to be doing, and thus starts to channel all those ideas you’ve prepped up to that point. Keeping it short makes the list approachable from an emotional and motivational stand point. If you put something huge and painful that will likely take all day or longer, you’re not very likely to want to do anything on that list as it just gets you closer to the painful items. If all you have to do is a big painful project, only write down smaller sub-steps of that project that on their own are simple and short items and also get you closer to finishing the big overall task.

Having this simple approach will feel rewarding, you wont become distracted from new thoughts that social media, news, etc can put in your head, and once you feel rewarded you can risk going into one of those non-productive modes knowing you already got somethings done. Or you may just feel good about getting things done and want to do more…