Starting is the hardest thing there is, bar none. I don’t care if it is a project, homework, or a corporate business plan; it is always difficult. It is so difficult that typically people don’t start at all. They follow down the road of procrastination and that leads them to not getting meaningful work accomplished. I’ve certainly talked about doing meaningful work on this blog before, and I stand by what I’ve said. I’ve also certainly talked about fiddling, and how it can be detrimental and helpful to productivity all at the same time - again, which I stand by. But aside from all that I think we just need to start things more often.
To give you an example on what holds me up here are some of the common blocks I have: living off the todo list, starting things, writing in general (I know right?), and project scope. The most important of which being the first, and I’ll tell you why. Often times we can have one or two tasks that block us and we don’t even realize it. There may be one or two things that just totally stop us from accomplishing anything else that day, and it can be a minor thing at that. We may feel guilty about not having it completed (which leads to more procrastination), or we could feel that we are going to never finish it because the project hasn’t been broken down appropriately. Or it could be anything in between. These are massive problems, and if there was a real task system out there it would have a little check box that says, “Is this task blocking you?”, and once you checked it - it would disappear until you turned on your computer the next morning. Unfortunately that doesn’t exist in personal productivity systems, typically. So what I propose is that you create it. If you see a task that is blocking you just check it off as completed, and then circle back to it later. This will save you a lot of headache in the long run.
Another small tip is to use verbs and nouns appropriately. Figure out if you are a noun or verb guy (Ie, “wash dishes” vs “dishes”), and then swim into that as hard as you can. If a task is blocking you consider its wording. For instance, if it is a phone call, change it to email, if it is an email - change it to phone call. Manipulate your lists and don’t let them manipulate you.
I often think that people who do knowledge work have the hardest time getting things done, and I’ve come to realize that it may be because we have to figure out who we want to be every morning. When you realize that you do something that requires actual thinking every day on a very insightful level, it creates a state in your mind where you have to force yourself to do that. Which then, alternatively and of course, happens less. Funny, because I don’t know of any electricians who think about electricity and then stop doing their jobs. But I know plenty of writers who think themselves out of writing everyday, and often times it is the hardest thing that they actually do. It is hard, because it is rewarding. Remember digging ditches as a kid with your dad? Okay, maybe you don’t but I surely do. And I remember vividly that it was hard, because it was rewarding at the end. You got to look back and say to yourself “Wow, I just dug all that”, and in a lot of ways that is what knowledge work is like. By now you should realize by knowledge work I simply mean anything that isn’t a plumber or a carpenter. They of course have to do a lot of thinking on a day to day basis, but it is fundamentally different. Their thinking is an aptitude based on their physicality in their job, whereas a knowledge workers thinking is the physicality of their job. It is the reality of what we do, be it being a designer or developer, writer or freelancer - whatever it is. On some level, you are a knowledge worker and you have to choose what to be every morning.
How often do you wake up and check email, Facebook, or Twitter? Probably too often? I know you probably do, simply because I do that as well. It is something we all do. And yet it is the worst thing we can actually do. Every morning you make a critical claim with yourself that you are indeed going to get work done today, and yet you spend the morning when you are deciding what to be that day subconsciously on checking email or Facebook? That is ludicrous. What is it that we don’t understand about ourselves that causes us to constantly check for that next new thing? Or is it that at all? It may not be, in fact it may simply be because we love new information. We are addicted to it. Here is where information diets are key, and you may not even like them. But enable yourself to get work done by taking one. Simply don’t check email or Facebook or Twitter in the morning when you wake up. They stop you from being a producer and get you to be a consumer. Do you want to be the 99% of the people you are producing for? Well, there is nothing wrong with that - but it is a seminal issue in your system. If you become that which you are producing for, then you stop being able to produce for them. It may only be for that day, or that hour - but it is important to stop it.
Stop pretending, and start deciding.
Early on in my practice, one of my meditation teachers once asked his teacher for advice on dealing with the pain he was experiencing while trying to sit in full-lotus position (this is tough for most westerners).
His teacher replied, “If it’s painful for you, don’t do it. You don’t need to go looking for difficulty, meditation is hard enough as it is.”
“As we gradually learn to harness the optimal computing capacity of matter, our intelligence will spread through the universe at (or exceeding) the speed of light, eventually leading to a sublime, universe wide awakening.” - Ray Kurzweil
I think that the main interest point for a lot of us going through our lives is the fact that we assume we will evolve to meet the challenges that lay before us. And often enough, we are absolutely correct. Surprisingly though, a lot of the mechanized systems of our times haven’t quite gotten to the point that they are meeting the demands we are putting on them. Be it requirements for clean energy or what have you, we are increasingly asking more and more from mechanized systems - and are receiving less and less. Why do you think that is? Why is it that we are still driving fossil fuel based cars while we are on our smart phones browsing a non-carbon based information highway? Is there any correlation there at all? Well, Ray Kurzweil sure thinks there is.
I certainly don’t consider myself to be a Kurzweil devotee or believer of all (or even most) of what he has to say, but I will say that a lot of his writing makes for great wonderment and substance for thinking on. For instance, who knows if technology and mental perspectives will collide in some all encompassing singularity in the near future - but what a wonderful thing to consider and ponder on. On a slightly tangential note, one of the reasons our mechanized systems are failing us is because we refuse to embrace innovation in these areas. Whereas in areas of technological basis or otherwise ‘interesting’ theorem we are all about being as efficient and innovative as possible. Could there be a reason for this, or some sort of long-misunderstood referendum that seems to be skewing us towards not understanding why that is the case?
It may in fact be our own psychological advancement and lean toward a civilized awareness in technological understanding. Take an African situation for instance. We often assume that kids there are malnourished and yet consider doing something to be far too grand of a task to ever even attempt to solve it even if that meant one small donation at a time. I feel we do a similar judgement call with our attitude towards mechanized systems, as they are often perceived as being ‘far too great’ of a burden on us to even begin to change. They are too complex, too standardized, too “set in stone”, too everything to be changed. Don’t you think it’s about time we threw that unsubstantiated bullshit out the window, and got started on more efficient solutions, and more importantly start embracing those solutions when they come about? Well, I for one feel the time to stand up for certain things in such a similar light has never been more perfect, and yet where are all the people doing so? This is where the catch comes, they are all around you! Everyday there are startups doing things to change age-old business models and make our world much more efficient than it ever would have been without them, yet we brush the changes off as something that mainstream society would never adopt. So stop yourself for a moment when you consider some innovation or change to be too obtuse - too grand - or too ridiculous - and ask yourself “Where will we be in 10 years without these changes?” Because that type of question is where the difference lies between five more years on this planet, and five hundred.
There is something truly amazing about some people, and something truly unique about their ability to create things that never used to exist. In fact, I’ve always wanted to be one of those people. I’ve always thought it would be amazing if I was someone who actually created things, and at first I thought that meant to create things with my hands. Come to find out, I am not so well suited to be a wood-worker or a craftsman or a hardware guy, and well, you can imagine the disappointment there in knowing that I wasn’t quite that type of person. And in fact, it took a little while for me to realize there was this entire other sort of reality that I could conquer. Something amazing and untraversed by me - as of yet… programming.
“You know what fascinates me? What fascinates me are the people who, in order to pay the mortgage, literally create something where nothing used to exist - every day.” - Merlin Mann
That certainly does sound glamorous doesn’t it? It just has a beauty in the ring of it, “Someone who creates things”. Be it mental or physical, knowledge based or metal based, it really doesn’t matter. Creation is creation, pure and simple. It has the impact and ability to change the thoughts and opinions of people in the world around you and the ability to shape and transform thoughts of what can and, perhaps more importantly, should be done.
The really funny thing is, although it can be something that is absolutely beautiful to you as a person and probably even something you passionately enjoy - it can also be stressful. As a person who does that for a living, I can absolutely say it is both amazing and stressful all at the same time. To know that you are helpinig others build things that are literally, most likely, as close to their imagination coming to life as possible - and that you are pursuing your passion. Well, that is an amazing combination, and one that pales the negatives in their inevitable comparison.
Another funny thing is, you learn so much doing this (being a freelancer).You learn about business, life, finances, your passion, the skills that you are working towards, how to deal with people, how to get things you would like, and just so much more. Being a freelancer really and truly touches upon everything you need to know as a person in a society, I think. You learn about motivation, productivity, how to keep going when you just can’t anymore, and how to stop when you just don’t know how. You learn all of the toughest lessons. You learn about gaining and creating followers, keeping people happy, how to be frugal, you’ll learn how to deal with the most difficult of people, and how to stand out amongst a crowd. Have I convinced you to become a freelancer yet? Well, I am not sure what I even would hope you’d say in response to that. Part of me wants to enlighten everyone that they have (more than likely) a skill that can make them a great freelancer, and that can embrue all these tough situations on them to learn from. And yet another part of me wants to say, “No no no, run for the hills. This isn’t a good profession.” In the end, though, what I suppose is truly funny is that regardless of how hard it may be at times - it is still the best thing I have ever done. So take that for what you will, and make a choice. Don’t let another day go to waste.
…It has begun (I’ve always wanted to say that), and this time there is a good reason to do so. Something interesting seems to have started a few weeks back. It appears that we have come to a time wherein Congress has let us down to such an extent that the lot of us have taken it upon ourselves to attempt to do their job for them, and in this case — with good reason. A collective has mobilized (and yes, I’ve always wanted to say that too). They’ve taken Reddit, and the rest of the open minded folks online by storm by drafting and creating a new law that hopes to help keep the internet open and free.
This law is called “The Freedom of Internet Act”, and it is in its early stages of development currently. It is being written publicly and without care that what is happening is incredibly naive. Though the reason for the naiveté here is much different than is typical. Here it isn’t because they simply don’t care about the legalities or hardships they may face when trying to implement this, but it is simply because it is how things get done. It was pure ambition that started the massive uproar regarding SOPA, and what led to its ultimate downfall. Whereas, tons of analyst and ‘experts’ said the bill was basically already instituted, and that is where most of the online communities didn’t agree. And essentially because of that they exhibited a certain naiveté regarding the issue, that in the end, is what led to SOPA & PIPA’s downfall. So I will be the first to lay claim to the fact that naiveté seems to be helpful in some cases.
To give you a little glimpse, here’s the first actual Article (1,a) of the bill:
Federal or State Governments will not pass any law, nor ratify any treaty, which imposes or administers any kind of censorship on the Internet, except in the situations detailed in Section C.
Now we ask ourselves the million dollar question, will this actually go anywhere? Well, it is still in the process of being drafted, and I think it is a much better approach than DarkNet. Which is the worldwide, decentralized, mesh-based internet that is also being built by various community members of Reddit (to help negate this very issue (internet censorship)). At any rate, we will see if it picks up steam. It is certainly getting tons of press coverage though (HuffPo, TechDirt, ABC, All Things D, HackerNews, etc).
So let’s all stay keyed in to the progress being made. Check it out as it happens here:
I’ve been thinking a lot about this ever since I read Marco Armament's post regarding programmatic problem solving. I, along with some of the readers (as noted by twitter responses) think that most of the ways we go about solving problems is irrevocably inferior to a programmatic approach.
I believe that most of the issues that we have on a day to day basis in our lives can be solved using a more programmatic approach. To get a better handle on this, let’s look back at Marco’s example. Here we can see that people didn’t want to obey the sign, because they already knew that what they were doing was wrong. Thereby, we can infer that they assumed the fallacy created by way of throwing napkins on the floor was much less than that of touching a dirty bathroom door (and possibly getting sick). And though we could debate the exact reason as to why they didn’t want to discard of the paper towels properly, it is rather irrelevant, what is relevant though is the fact that when prompted to do the right thing they actually did more of what was viewed as the wrong thing. This sort of “mini personal rebellion” is something we actually do many times throughout our day to day lives, and often without realizing it. We can see it within ourselves when we don’t want to exercise, we can see it often when we choose to eat fatty/unhealthy food over healthy food, and most notably (at least for knowledge workers) we can see it when we decide to fiddle instead of work on a task that needs to be accomplished. And let’s just be clear, I am not without fault to this, as I am effectively fiddling right now as I write this. And this is the exact point I’d like to make in the end. Here I am typing a blog post, whereas I probably should be coding… but I have justified that if I am typing something for my blog then I am clearly not fiddling. How could I be fiddling if I am doing something that feels productive? Well, let’s reference Marco’s example again, because I also have put up a poster. Mine though, is on the wall of my mind and it reads: “If you feel productive you aren’t fiddling, regardless of how not productive the task causing you to feel productive may actually be”. And the funny thing is here (unlike Marco’s example) we have a harder time telling which is which. We have a harder time following our logical fallacies if they feel logical to us, whereas throwing paper towels on the ground clearly feels illogical (as we all know they belong in a waste basket). But don’t be fooled, because it is precisely this slip that causes a lot of issues we have as developers, writers, and knowledge workers in general. Let’s unwrap that a bit.
As developers, writers, photographers, designers, or whatever it is you may be, even if you love what it is that you do, you probably go through these sorts of “issues” (read, you getting upset over fiddling) over and over again on a day to day basis. Regardless of what it is though, you should be aware that it is happening - that is the first step. And ironically enough, this is the step that causes the actual issue in the first place - not the fiddling itself. We read all over that we shouldn’t be fiddling, and because of that we are hyper-aware of it - often to the tune of much inner turmoil. Now let’s get better perspective on this by breaking down what fiddling may be. It could be as simple as something like cleaning your cameras repeatedly, doing unnecessary ‘research’ (read, *browsing*) for an article, or just prepping TextMate bundles that you may or may not ever use. The real question is, what do you do now that you have realized you are masking fiddling with a feeling that is actually causing you to not get real work done. And that is certainly the million dollar question isn’t it? I mean, logically, if you were constantly doing work then you may literally have close to that much money in your bank account. Those 0’s would certainly be satisfying, wouldn’t they? They would be for a while certainly, but you know what’s more satisfying? Happiness. And down to the bare grit of it, fiddling makes us happy. Feeling productive makes us happy. Just to note though, of course, fiddling shouldn’t come at the expense of doing things that actually sustain your lifestyle, but we shouldn’t cut them out or irrevocably try to remove them from our life. If we do we could easily fall into the trap that the poster created by being on the wall of the bathroom: legitimate rebellion. Ask yourself what you’d prefer to be doing to show or release your inner-rebellion: a) fiddling and enjoying yourself or b) hating what it is that you do because you don’t have a proper outlet for such harmless rebellion. I certainly hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I’m telling you from personal experience that if you don’t have an otherwise more manageable and entertaining outlet for your rebellion then you are going to pick something much worse to express that rebellion. That something will be, by its very nature, much more black and white. And we all know by now that the world isn’t black and white, so why force it to be. In the end though, it’s up to you to make a decision - and that decision shouldn’t be fueled by not wanting to fiddle because you heard it is bad. It should be fueled by an awareness you have of the broad scope, and your long-term mental health. So what are you going to choose, A or B?
Visualize what you want, and get ready to be bequeathed upon. At least, that is what the book The Secret would have you believe. How could we all not want a Cosmic ATM that comes equipped with a delivery driver and no limit? Well, that was that is just the best rhetorical question, because the answer is obvious. And although this sounds dreamy scientists have called bullshit.
Scientists want an unlimited potential for manifestinig their dreams as much as we do, and because of this some have gone so far as to research the seemingly esoteric topic that is ‘visualization’. In the book 59 Seconds, Richard Wiseman shares the research from scientists studying just that. It turns out that when you imagine having what you want, you are actually less likely to get it. It seems this is true for romance, weight control, lifestyle change, and just about anything else. Most self help programs tell us to feel as though we have already reached our goal, which doesn’t work, so then we have to come back and buy more self help books (which works for them). This is a recurssive and never ending cycle, and what the real research shows is that when we feel like we already have what we want we are less motivated and less likely to persevere when faced with the hardships that come with achieving such a goal. Of course, we can have spiritual debates on the importance of third-eye’ng your goal (which may be important on a more ethereal level), but the facts and studies seem to show something much different.
Now, if all of that is true then what is the ‘real’ secret? What is the real key to life that nobody has told us? There has to be one, right? Well, here are a few ‘real’ ways to visualize.
- Visualize your progress, not the end result. It is important to imagine, but don’t imagine having the goal. Imagine yourself taking the steps necessary to reach it. Instead of programming your brain to think, “I’M THERE” you are programming your brain to do the work that will get you there.
- Visualize from the third person, not from your perspective. When you see yourself doing something in your mind you feel compelled to go do it. Monkey see, monkey do.
- Be optimistically realistic. The Stockdale Paradox - “You must never confuse faith with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, no matter what they may be.” Combine optimistic inspiration with real world problem solving.
Credit for tips.
With these in mind (and with this new direction for visualizing) you can extrapolate your own tips and tricks. Be sure to try that, and remember that constant experimentation is one of the quickest ways to evolve.
Note: ‘The Secret’ book asks for effort on all levels, not just a want or desire to achieve your goal. The problem, though, is that people have taken it as meaning ‘to want or desire something that will then manifest’ solely - to which there is a fundamental flaw.
“A company does a great job, innovates and becomes a monopoly or close to it in some field, and then the quality of the product becomes less important. The company starts valuing the great salesman, because they’re the ones who can move the needle on revenues.” - Steve Jobs; via Walter Isaacson.
After listening to this weeks Hypercritical, that quote became all the more meaningful. There are facets of larger companies that just absolutely stifle innovations, and it does not simply seem to be because they are -big- companies. It seems to be because they are playing defense, which is something I haven’t realized until now. For example, we have Microsoft and their Office products, and even though they have tried to push it to the cloud they still play defense instead of trying to break into new markets. Whereby companies like Apple define markets; I.e. they have defined the app market, the tablet market, and the smartphone markets among others. The reason we are all so envious of Apple (and as a Founder myself I can say that), is because they are pioneers and pirates. They are equal parts loving and direct, powerful and creative, detached and yet fully invested. How does something like that even exist, much less work? That is something we ask and pursue everyday as we get our inspiration from people like Steve. But I think we all know that it has to do with the quality and care they put into their products and ideas, and as a sidenote I don’t think any of us can question the validity of caring about your products and customers anymore.
This isn’t just about making money though, it is about changing the face of vertical markets and thereby the world. That may sound a bit extreme, but the world is just one collection of vertical markets, in a business sense, and Apple has surely done its duty to mark a change on as many as they can. It may not be the intention of a company to try and change the world, after-all not all of us can be that amazing, but I will admit that it seems to be a linking characteristic to the good ones. Love is a powerful motivator, and we are learning this more and more with each day that passes. The push into a start-up centric culture is a clear and defining victory for a lot of us that want this change to come sooner, not later. And it is amazing to watch.
On that note, I think that understanding ourselves and intuitively knowing that we are all here to progress humanity is a big part of this. I know that sounds really ‘hey hippy let’s all go burn incense’, but it is absolutely true. The more we are all aware of the problems we face: water famine, debt crisis, energy issues, etc - the more we are focused on solving these problems. And the more we are focused on solving these problems the higher quality the companies and start-ups will be that introduce solutions into related markets. Now, of course not everything can be solved by a startup, but at its base level (and in my opinion) a start-up is just a collection of ideas around changing the way either people or commodities (energy, oil, metals, etc) behave within a market. Regardless of the definition though, any group of people that truely wants to can indeed define a movement. And companies are just concealed movements with a grandeur theme, and thereby founders are simply movement initiators and activators. We need more though, and we need them to continue pursuing these important changes and problems we have within our world. Give love, create solutions, empower honesty, and let’s move the needle in our own way. What are you waiting for?
If we doubt the power of change, change will be doubted.
"If you are into buying lenses more than pressing that button on the camera, then that is really a different kind of thing." - Merlin Mann
I think that is a really meaningful statement, and one that relates to almost any job or hobby you have. If we are identifying with something related to or around a goal, then we aren’t really any closer to achieving that goal. Nor are we any closer to becoming prolific at whatever it is we are doing that may be around said goal, because we are too busy worrying or stressing over the goal never being accomplished in the first place. If you are more a fan of looking for the perfect distraction free writing enviornment than you are a fan of making your fingers actually do the writing, then that is really a completely different thing. Maybe you should just drop the writing and start practicing minimalism, because that may be what you enjoy doing - not writing. Regardless of that, your problem may not be based in self-identity(you probably realize you aren’t a writer in the first place), but it may be a problem with what you are actually identifying with. If you are identifying with writing, then make sure you are doing that typing thing that is so important. Not just planning, mindmapping, or thinking about writing. Not taking a shower, doing housework, or sleeping about writing - but actually making your fingers move to form coherent sentences. After all, the task is writing… not BS’ng.
If you own a car but don’t know how to change the oil, you probably don’t think of yourself as a mechanic or automotive enthusiast. You could indeed be either of those things, in which case you would probably know how to change the oil, but if you didn’t you wouldn’t identify with doing so in the first place. To put a finer point on it, we can do everything in the world around writing, but never actually do any of the act itself, and we would still identify with the process. It’s a ‘your gift is your curse’ sort of thing, because writing is so inspiring to some people that it gives us this imperceptible loss of foresight when it comes to the act of writing. In fact, in that same token, just because you tossed the ball around outside with your dad as a kid didn’t mean you were a major league baseball star. We knew these things, and when we were little we didn’t let that stop us. We didn’t let the overwhelming burden of not being prolific at our activity actually stop us from doing it. We said, ‘oh I’m not a professional, but I can still throw this ball - let’s just see how that turns out.’ We just went with it, and that is where the power is. Everything isn’t always going to turn out how we want it to, but how about we ask ourselves what it is trying to be and then go with that. Don’t let the idea of writing flood you with inspiration, only to let you be killed and hung out to dry by the stress of never actually getting started. In summation, there is a pretty solid quote regarding this that I always try to always keep in mind:
The more late something is, the more behind you feel, the more bad you feel about it, the more you wanna’ double down and get more stressed out about it. Which, that is all just about the worst thing in the world you can do. For most people this actually becomes a secondary problem that eclipses the original problem of not getting started.