When the baby fusses at 5, I should stay up after settling her down. If instead I return to bed, The sun rises without me.
Unlike every other class in high school, I remember art class being completely self-directed. Yes, in English I could choose which book I wrote a 3-page report on and in History I could choose whether or not I paid attention at all, but it was art where I felt I could wholly and completely pursue my interests. The medium, subject matter, and technique were all up to me. With one caveat – I had to write a proposal and Mrs. Topdahl needed to approve it.
The proposal had to include a brief description of the project, a timeline, and 3 goals and their corresponding measures of success. These were the metrics determining my grade. The goals were frequently things I continually struggled with: improved use of color, improved craftsmanship, more accurate depictions of human figures. As a teenager, I’m sure I wrote in some softballs from time to time. Mrs. Topdahl knew if I wasn’t challenging myself, reject the proposal, and send me back to re-write it. I remember spending entire class periods working on proposals. Once the proposal was approved, I’d get to work acquiring materials and scheduling milestones. We’d have check-ins throughout the defined timeline to discuss project status, which aspects of the project were working and which I needed help with. But mostly, from acquiring project materials through to final presentation, I’d work autonomously towards the defined goals.
While the proposals defined what a successful end state looked like, they never defined exactly how to arrive there. There was still plenty of room to explore the heart of the project and discover something both delightfully significant and significantly delightful. This is still art after all. Not every project was a resounding success. Some were complete messes.
Either way, by the next class period, I was drafting another proposal.
That was nearly a quarter century ago.
Before I drafted the proposal for a design internship.
Before I earned a BFA.
Before I went out on my own.
Before I read anything by Alan Weiss.
Looking back on the hundreds of professional projects I’ve worked on, the successful ones have 3 things in common:
- The client and I partnered in outlining the project’s goals, agreed on the proposal, then I worked autonomously.
- Determining how to achieve the goals was up to my experience and expertise – not included in the proposal.
- They had nothing to do with my use of color or depictions of the human figure.
Thanks to my high school art teacher, Mrs. Topdahl, for teaching 16-year old me how to be an independent professional.
Despite a bad habit of staying up until 2am most nights, I hadn’t used an alarm clock for at least 6 years. Likely a decade. When I was up that late actively working on a project (versus binge listening to music or watching Netflix), I’d joke my ‘second day’ was from 8pm – 2am. Yes, I’d be worthless until lunch, but at the time my clients were 2 timezones away. I continued to be a night owl when I became a father. Once the kids were asleep and the day was behind me, usually 10pm, I’d be inspired to start one project or another.
When my oldest was still a baby in the crib, sometime between 6:30 and 7am he would fill his diaper so loudly it’d wake his mother and me. I’d get up to change him. As he grew older, he’d just yell for me: “Papa, Papa, Papa, Papa, Papa, Papa…” until I picked him up. Once he could walk, he’d get himself out of bed, toddle down the hall into my bedroom, work his way to my side of the bed, shouting “Breafkast Time!” at my sleeping head. In case I didn’t immediately respond, his little sister was hanging in the shadows. Every morning. 7am.
I’ve always equated the sleep deprivation of having a newborn in the house like that of finals week in college. It’s intense but you know you’ll be able to sleep in a week. Or twelve. Sleep deprivation and older kids is different. You can’t cross off the days until they’ll sleep through the night. They are. You aren’t. There’s no relief in sight and it’s the worst version of you they see in the morning.
On one especially challenging morning I had an epiphany, “I’m a better dad when I’m up before the kids than if they wake me up.”
A deceptively simple goal.
To achieve this, my sleep deprived mind reasoned, I needed to get up 30 minutes earlier. To do that, I needed to sleep more deeply and more restfully. With a more restful sleep, I could wake up refreshed and ready to help the kids. I researched natural sleep aids and picked up a 3 month supply of melatonin. At about 11p each evening I’d take one tablet and about 30 minutes later I’d feel drowsy and head off to bed. Easy. This regimen worked great for a couple of months. I’d fall asleep when my head hit the pillow and wake up alert. As I reached the bottom of the pill bottle, I developed a tolerance. Ninety minutes after going to sleep, my eyes would shoot open and I’d be wide awake. Higher dosages just made it worse. Some nights, lying wide awake at the ceiling, I couldn’t remember if I had taken it at all.
In September 2011, I heard about the Zeo Sleep Coach from Jamie’s links blog. The Zeo is an alarm clock that monitors your sleep cycles and goes off at the most appropriate point ahead of your alarm. Along the way, it quantifies your night’s sleep in a single “ZQ” score.
You’ll need to wear the supplied headband for it to work. The instruction card in the box warns your spouse will mock the fact you need a headband to sleep.
As I accumulated more sleep data, I could easily hit a 76, 78, or 80 ZQ. The card says, this was slightly lower than others in my age group. Nothing else. No odd periods of wakefulness through the night, no irregular sleep cycles, nothing out of the ordinary. Just a slightly lower ZQ score and the expected mocking. I tried to game the ZQ score. On weekends I’d score the occasional 90. With a maximum of 10 points per hour it was tough to crack 100. But I did. Nine times. All time high of 117. Looking deeper into the data, I could see my sleep cycles were consistently 90 minutes long. Shifting my awake time 30 minutes earlier didn’t fall within that window. I reset Zeo’s alam clock accordingly. When it worked – it worked brilliantly. I’d get up with the alarm, start my day, and be dressed and fed before the kids demand I help them with the same.
The Zeo had a 2 significant downsides. The first – it considered your alarm time as the latest possible waking-point rather than the most appropriate waking-point in your sleep cycle. The second – and one I believe will be a significant controversy of the 21st Century – Zeo stored sleep data on an SD card encrypted. The recommended way of decrypting the data was to create an account at myzeo.com and upload the encrypted data file to their servers. Having my personal biological data captured and encrypted by a device in my household that only I was using with the default method for me to access that personal data was through a for-profit company’s servers – that’s completely unethical. Accessing my personal data on a device I purchased shouldn’t require a soldering iron. Especially when it’s a csv text file. Especially when the company in question quietly goes out of business and their domain reverts to a GoDaddy landing page.
Thankfully by this time, I had 18 months with the Zeo and had cracked the secret to getting a good night’s sleep. Once I accepted it and worked through a sleep debt, I could consistently wake up unaided before 6:30a.
Three years ago, if you would have told me this secret to getting a good night’s sleep without the aid of technology (electronic or pharmaceutical), I would have replied with a hearty scoff and a, “No, that can’t be it.”
It turns out the boost of inspiration I get every night at 10pm is my mind’s counterintuitive way of expressing drowsiness. Something like that boost of inspiration you might get as your mind wanders in the shower. Rather than simply take note of the inspiration, I’d immediately act on it. The blue light of the computer monitor would compounding my alertness. Before I knew it, it’d be 2am
Now, I don’t start anything new after 9:30 and aim for lights out by 10:30pm. This guarantees 5 90 minute sleep cycles before morning. The night owl in me still scoffs. I let him. The last score he got was a 58 (still displayed on the dust-collecting Zeo). He’ll never appreciate how enjoyable and productive mornings are.
Lately I’ve preferred drinking small 4oz pours of 3-5 different beers rather than a larger pour of a single beer. Being able to compare and contrast multiple beers makes it easier to suss out the distinctive character of each individual beer. I’ve also found when I drink less when I drink mindfully.
The big box stores have released their holiday hours, Amazon is counting down to Black Friday, Vita.mn has released their Minnesota six-pack, and I’m studying up for a BJCP tasting exam. Roll that all together and I’ve had holiday beer flights on the brain. Each of the 6 flights below is designed for diversity and distinctiveness. I trust it will introduce you and yours to something new and interesting (and maybe even look at something familiar in a new way). All the beers were purchased in either MN or WI, though some are easier to find than others.
Four pale, crisp, refreshing beers highlighting a brewing technique or ingredient that was once far more popular than it is today. Compare and contrast the tartness from the yeast, spicy from the hops & herbs, and the diversity in carbonation levels.
|Beer (Origin)||BeerAdvocate Score|
|Antwerpse Brouw Seef (Belgium)||81|
|Olvalde Rise of the Burghers and the Fall of the Feudal Lords (MN)||NA|
|Schell Star of the North (MN)||95|
The full spectrum of hop forward American pale ales. Notice the differences in malt sweetness and how the hop bitterness and citrusy hop aroma keeps ahead of it.
|Beer (Origin)||BeerAdvocate Score|
|Bear Republic Hop Rod Rye (CA)||95|
|Ballast Point Big Eye (CA)||91|
|Indeed Day Tripper (MN)||90|
|21st Amendment Bitter American (CA)||87|
In these four big, dark beers look for roasted coffee, dark chocolate, prunes, and assertive alcohol presence. Compare the differences in smoke and roasted grains. Discuss with your companions whether or not you enjoy the 2 with peated malt (I do).
|Beer (Origin)||BeerAdvocate Score|
|Samuel Adams Wee Heavy (MA)||83|
|Boulevard Dark Truth (MO)||89|
|Fulton Worthy Adversary (MN)||93|
|Brouwerij De Molen Hemel & Aarde (Belgium)||89|
From traditional to clearly American, these 4 beers interpret a rustic, complex, and refreshingly dry style. Compare and contrast the hop aromas and spicy yeast characters. Look for the ‘wild’ yeast character common in this style.
|Beer (Origin)||BeerAdvocate Score|
|Brooklyn Sorachi Ace (NY)||92|
|Boulevard Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale (MO)||93|
|Hopothesis Drafty Window (IL)||NA|
|Brasserie Dupont Saison Dupont (Belgium)||93|
These four beers will stand up against any red wine at your holiday table. Like wine, they’re complex in aroma and flavor. Compare and contrast the levels of carbonation and prominence of dark fruit. Look for oak, tobacco, vanilla, and red-wine-esque tannins.
|Beer (Origin)||BeerAdvocate Score|
|Bockor Cuvee Des Jacobin Rouge (Belgium)||96|
|Verhaeghe Duchesse De Bourgogne (Belgium)||92|
|Rodenbach Grand Cru (Belgium)||95|
|Odell The Meddler (CO)||89|
These are big beers, happily set down in a cool, dark, cellar and brought out for a celebration. Compare and contrast prominence of alcohol warmth and hop aroma. Discuss which beer is most reminds you of fruitcake. Look for caramel, oak, and comfortable place to sit down.
|Beer (Origin)||BeerAdvocate Score|
|North Coast Old Stock Ale (CA)||92|
|Sierra Nevada Bigfoot Barleywine (CA)||93|
|Avery Samael’s Ale (CO)||87|
|Schloss Eggenberg Samichlaus Classic (Austria)||89|
One dreary autumn day in 1996 I, and the dozen others in my exchange student cohort, began the first day at our host school. The entire art school was abuzz working on projects for the all-school show. The theme: Banalität. Banality.
Commonplace. Predictable. Obvious.
In the screen printing studio, a team was working on the poster announcing the show. Other than the theme of the show and dates the only other element was a yellow banana. I still remember the professor demonstrating how to get the perfect white-to-blue gradient with just ink and skillfully manipulated squeegee. On every wall throughout the building, a work was celebrating some under-appreciated aspect of everyday life. Eventually Jon, Scott, and I got into the action with photography exhibit in the cafe. Of the cafe.
Banalität gave me a means of processing my culture shock. A way I could call attention to things I couldn’t yet take for granted and permission to look at them differently.
My oldest is a year older today. The past 8 years have shown me becoming a parent is much like moving to a foreign country. Communication is difficult for a long time, you need to re-learn how to get through the day, you need to be prepared for unexpected situations, you need support from someone experienced. Nothing can be taken for granted. Yes, everything improves with each successive day. No, you’re not the person you were when you started. Your eyes have adjusted. Take a moment, look around, be thankful for the slices of banality around you.
For almost 2 years, Jamie and I have been working on a 1-page form to easily and quickly document a kubb game while it’s in progress. The latest version (iteration 10) incorporates a stats section to quickly calculate team performance (without an electronic device). This latest iteration also solves the awkwardness knowing which team opens a game and displays all the elements of the Planet Kubb Game Notation.
My graphic design side is especially proud of how all the elements fit into place in a usable way. The credit I believe has to do with: understanding how the Scoresheet will be used (dozens of tournament games were scored), aggressively removing insignificant/unused elements, and stopping when we ran out of actionable information. You know – applying Design Principles.
More about the new Planet Kubb Scoresheet here.
A few weeks ago, I met with a local small business owner. We first met back when we were both solo and have met for coffee every 6 months or so since. He now maintains an office downtown full of employees. Towards the end of our time together, he asked which social media services I was actively using.
“None. My buyers aren’t there.”
He concurred that none of his business came through those channels either and that he’s considering deleting all his accounts. What’s been holding him back?
The sense that his future employees are active on these social media services and that not being present will make future hiring more difficult. I reminded him of the business he’s growing, the family he enjoys, and that his employees should do his recruiting since they’re who this hypothetical new employee will be working with anyway.
So, yes, delete the accounts. Your future isn’t there anyway.
Over the past 5 years, I’ve built, released, and retired a number of my own products (Cullect, Kernest, typerighter, and some even smaller ones). The revenue from these projects keeps both my server bills and my knowledge of the latest tech current. They don’t pay the kids’ yogurt bill, the tax bill, the mortgage bill, or my retirement. These expenses are covered by my consulting and coaching engagements. These are engagements with:
- corporate executives challenged with transforming a multi-channel organization into a digital-centric organization,
- leaders of digital-centric organizations charged with increasing growth and revenue,
- founders fighting to pull their startup out of the din of banality.
Most important of all – they all have families they love, kids they don’t spend enough time with, and hobbies they haven’t pursued in much too long. In short, their calendars are booked solid with challenge and fulfillment. These are not people outraged by the latest Twitter, Linkedin, or Facebook drama (product-related or otherwise). These are people fighting to make their vision a reality. Every. Single. Day. Fighting to transform their organization’s products and culture. They’re not tweeting it.
So, how do you get in front of your buyers? That’s your job to find out. It’s not a new job. Nor is it one that can be solved by the hottest new technology. It’s solved by building relationships – not followers – atop a platform that’s unique to your remarkable business.
Apple releasing iOS7, Mavericks, iLife, and iWork means Apple (still) doesn’t see the value in software. This shift means Apple’s execs are betting in more consumers upgrading higher-margin Apple-made hardware more frequently. Historically, Apple hardware has a 2x lifespan (3-5 yrs) compared against other hardware (Dell, HP come to mind immediately). Have Apple’s recent hardware releases been such significant leaps forward that my current devices so inadequate as to be replaced immediately?
No. Not at all.
In fact, Apple seems to have gone to great lengths to insure my 2+ year old laptop and iPhone 4s run their latest version of their corresponding OS. Unless these upgrades cause my daily machines to slow to a crawl (which I’m not going to tempt for I see no significant benefit to upgrading) I foresee no reason to open my wallet to Apple. There are arguments that this $0 upgrade fee is a front against an Android- or Windows-esque platform fragmentation. Perhaps, but unlike Android & Windows, platform fragment in the Apple ecosystem can only come from 2 places: Apple or Apple’s user base. Perhaps Apple is finally large enough to have a non-trivial % of stubborn, lazy, non-upgrading customers (like me and many corporations I work with). Maybe. But, are the advertised benefits of upgrading today so significant that upgrading is a must?
No. Not at all.
So, if it’s a fight against platform fragmentation – it’s a war internal at Apple. And based on the announcements, the winning side is the one where software is managed through iTunes.
Removing prices (and functionality) on house software is admitting they’ve built a culture where customers expected software to be free. Will Apple will continue to take strategy cues from the most successful third party iOS software and grow in-app purchases within iWork into a significant source of revenue.
Either way, if you’re a developer in the Apple ecosystem (iOS or Mac) this is one more reason to find a non-Apple revenue stream.
Patrick and I have been meeting for a Monday morning coffee for years now. It’s an excellent way to start the week. As good as it is, it still fell by the wayside when my new daughter was born. Once we reconvened, he asked me what I found valuable about our conversations.
Without thinking I replied, “How it reduces my available time.”
This is to say, the longer Patrick and I are discussing long term goals, world-changing projects, and how we’re striving to be better the less time I have available to get sucked into drama du jour/Twitter/Facebook/Hacker News. Priceless.
Six weeks ago, I came up with an experiment to see where this idea breaks.
- Monday – Thursday: No client work before lunch.
- Friday: No client work after lunch.
- No client work on weekends.
I now have recurring appointments in my calendar for: strategic thinking, reading, writing, attending my favorite class at the local gym. Sure, even in these short 6 weeks the time for these things have been constrained due to, well, life; compiling documents for the accountant, meeting with prospective clients, attending the end-of-unit preschool party, taking the baby to the doctor, even some client work snuck in this week.
- The biggest benefit?
- With rules for when I do client work, I’m much more protective and focused on generating value for my clients during those hours.
- I always break for lunch
Even with my current 62.5% success rate , I’ve found myself focused and motivated at reaching project milestones within the scheduled time. Yes, I’ve had some late lunches on recent Fridays. I’m OK with that. This model is something like a really long reverse Pomodoro (focus on play for 3 hours then on work for 4 hours) though I prefer to think of it as the Oxygen Mask Principle (take care of yourself first, then you’ll be better able to take care of others).
1. My inbox zero success rate for this same time period is 75%. I believe they are directed related.
I’m writing this from the wonderful, artful park a couple miles north of my house. It’s close enough that I could – and really should – spend a little bit of everyday here. Yet, this is the first time in more than a year I headed up here alone to work.
In college I knew at some point I’d work for myself. Yet, at no point did I write down “Be my own boss” or “Work for myself” as a goal to work towards. It seems as inevitable as aging and “trim earhair” is not a Goal To Write Down. Yet, before I turned 30, I was president of a corporate entity, invoicing clients, depositing checks into a corporate account, and paying myself a regular salary, all from the spare room. Unfortunately, I didn’t really believe it. It all seemed just so flimsy and abstract. Of course, any day now someone will offer me a position at an actual, concrete entity. Any. Day. Now. Well, the mortgage is still due, so I’ll keep on keeping on.
When I first met my third child, I looked into the clear skies of his newborn eyes and I was met with a, “Are you serious? About working for yourself, I mean. Are you actually serious about making that – work?”
He was right to ask. One kid didn’t significantly impact my lack of work life balance. And while it was significantly more challenging – two kids didn’t provide cause to rethink things either. Three however. And to be perfectly honest – I wasn’t serious. I hadn’t been serious. I was walking backward. He didn’t blink though. He wanted an answer. I needed to decide, either be serious or get a damn job.
Fine, fine. Ok, I’m serious.
Off I went meeting with more clients, closing more business, booking more projects, promptly overwhelming my calendar and myself. So, despite the many strong recommendations against the idea, I hired employees. I needed to ensure they were doing that magic combination of; work they were good at, work the client asked for, and work I wanted to sell. All this added far more than 3 straws to my camel’s back. At its apex (or nadir), I was hunched over a laptop struggling with some tiny client project on a beautiful summer day while the rest of the family was laughing and swimming in the river. Yes, I had my best year ever. Yes, I regret not being in that river.
Since then, I’ve let all the employees go and continually revisited the question Augustus asked me when we first met. It took me a few years, but I think I finally understand his question. It wasn’t really about working for myself – it was about knowing why I was. Beyond “nobody’s hired me yet” I had never answered why I wanted to work for myself. Answering ‘why’ took less than 3 minutes:
- to spend time with him, his siblings, and my wife throughout the banality of the day
- to be in control of my work environment
- to have low overhead so I can be selective and excited about the clients I engage
- to provide my clients a value-rich, intimate, and unique engagement
- to focus on long term leverage, not short term fixes
- to continually provide opportunities for my own personal and professional development
Many times in the past decade I’ve failed to be serious in these 6 areas. I’ve failed to take advantage of these 6 benefits of working solo. I’ve too often been a horrible boss — to myself. No more. After spending the past 5 weeks focused on my family, getting my office just about where I want it — I’m enthusiastic about my current projects.
And I have a goal for the next decade — written down. A bunch of them in fact. One of them is work from the park more. StrengthFinder 2.0 says I do better with written down goals.
You should still try it. It’s refreshing and light. The Four Firkins carries it.
Kevin Morris today:
Days into starting my own business, I sat down at my newly acquired desk and wrote down a list of things. Things I assumed I needed to purchase immediately to be in business. While I lost the list at some point in the past decade, I remember three things about it; it totaled more than $10,000, was quite lengthy, and I have yet to purchase anything on it. While I don’t remember everything on the list, I do remember a handful:
4 Things I Assumed I Needed But Didn’t
- An office outside my house
For the first few years I was in business, I toured office spaces and frequently spent days not working in my home office – always assuming that I’d find a place more comfortable and productive. I mean, all artists have a studio, right? It took 3 moves and 7 years, now my home office is my most comfortable and productive place.
- A Chair
For the last 2 years, since converting my desk to a standing desk, Markus has been in the closet, loaded with baby clothes. After losing the desk chair I also lost chronic neck pain and extreme late afternoon fatigue.
- Buying Software from Adobe
I’ve never been a fan of any of Adobe’s software, but always assumed I’d have to purchase Creative Suite, if not just InDesign, or at least a library of fonts. Turns out – none of it. Between open source software and far less expensive software – I’ve never actually needed to purchase anything from Adobe. These days, not even Acrobat Reader is on my machines.
- Business Cards
When I started out, I had a friend-of-a-friend letterpress some gorgeous business cards. Then I ran out, got distracted, and realized that capturing the other person’s info and following up is a more efficient way to initiate a relationship. After that -contact info is in the phone and email logs.
While this first list is pretty useful, there’s also a second, perhaps a more important, list. This is the list I wish I had when I started out.
4 Things I Didn’t Know I Needed
I start my day sometime between 8:30-9am, and I conclude it sometime between 4:30-5pm. Monday through Friday. Each days’ activities are scheduled at least 3 days in advance in iCal. This provides just enough structure to switch into my work mindset.
Even a short 15 minute walk is enough to get some fresh air, change the perspective, and return refreshed.
Think of it as cross-training your brain. Different activities exercise different aspects of your grey matter. Creative solutions come from mixing different concepts in a new way. Hobbies build up other skills and insights that will only serve your work. Plus, they provide a nice place to rebuild small success when burnt out looms.
All my most important milestones are on the wall calendar right behind my desk. I review it at least twice a day, so much more accessible at a glance than anything electronic.
On Wednesday, May 15, 6:30pm, at the Loft Literary Center I’ll be joining Kaeti Hink, Steve Laliberte, Kate Parry, and Dan Haugen on panel discussing e-books and how journalists can leverage them for longer form, in-depth work. It’s a free event open to the public sponsored by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists. See you there.
“But when skeuomorphs get in the way of how we actually use something or build something, they demonstrate a lack of imagination or even cowardice on the part of the designer.…Yes, it’s far easier to get understanding or buy in quickly (from investors, in-laws and users) when you take the shortcut of making your digital thing look and work just like the trusted and proven non-digital thing. But over and over again, we see that the winner doesn’t look at all like the old thing. eBay doesn’t look like Sotheby’s. Amazon doesn’t look like a bookstore. The funding for AirBnB doesn’t look like what it took to get Marriott off the ground” – Seth Godin
Above, Seth Godin nicely articulates my feelings about the skeumorphic design popularized by Apple’s iOS applications. It’s an admittance that the UI design teams (Apple’s in particular, since they started it) don’t know what to do. That they haven’t actually spent the time to think about how a calendar, address book, et al are different, let along how they can be different when they’re on a such a new, futuristic, imaginative device like pocket-sized touch-screen computer.
Here are six:
“Let’s look on the bright side: we’re having an adventure, Fezzik, and most people live and die without being as lucky as we are.”
Adventure. That’s exactly why we go independent. For some adventures you’ll need a team. Maybe not right away, perhaps down the road. Ad hoc is fine, in fact it’s preferred. Sometimes members of your team will start out as competitors. Keep your mind open to creating ad hoc teams as projects and adventures warrant.
“Look! He’s right on top of us. I wonder if he is using the same wind we are using.”
Independence removes much of the weight of other organizations allowing you to move much more quickly towards your goals, as well as identifying smaller, more unique opportunities that larger teams don’t see the significance in. It’s worth mentioning here that just because someone is traveling in the same direction you are doesn’t mean you have shared goals or intentions. It just means you’re traveling in the same direction.
“Get some rest. If you haven’t got your health, then you haven’t got anything.”
You’re exhausted and you feel like your projects are taking the life out of you. Stop and take care of yourself. If you’re not taking care of you – you can’t take care of your clients. Only you know what you need to perform at your best – and it likely starts with eating well, exercising at least every other day, and every night getting a full night’s sleep.
“You just wiggled your finger. That’s wonderful!”
Sometimes you feel mostly dead. In these times, celebrate the small victories. Remember, you’re working towards a larger goal. Progress towards a goal, no matter how minor – is still progress.
“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says otherwise is obviously selling something!”
Yes, selling. Dedicate time each week to gaining new business. As an independent, people are buying you – or more specifically – they’re buying access to you. In return you relieve some pain on their side. Identify their pain, how you can ease it, and your sales process will be much more straight forward. Thought, it still may take twice as long as you expect.
“Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”
There’s no such thing as job security. Even in piracy, and honestly, your current salaried position isn’t nearly as glamorous as storybook piracy. Maybe, just maybe, you’re the one person your boss will have replace him when he retires. Far more likely: he’ll go down with the ship.
TL;DR: The calendar is the vessel, not the inbox.
According to my email service, I receive approximately 1 non-spam message for every 4 spam messages. Everyday 400 obviously unwanted messages are destroyed for every 100 allowed through. Many of those 100 are easy enough to delete as well. Over the course of any given day, it’ll take me around 2 minutes to process 98% of those messages. That leaves 2. Two messages that for whatever reason – I can’t just immediately delete. Two messages I actually need to think about.
What do I need to do? How do I respond?
I have a daily goal of clearing out my email inbox. Just as I have a daily goal of cleaning out my physical mail box daily. Most days, both are easily achievable. In all honestly, the hardest messages, the ones I’m really truly avoiding aren’t sitting unread in my email. The ones I’m avoiding are partially written drafts – or worse – not yet started (except they have been – a thousand times in my mind) drafts. But that’s a different conversation – this conversation is about processing the email inbox.
Notice, we don’t really have 400 – or even 100 – messages to deal with. We really only have 2. Two messages that require our response. You might be thinking, “oh, Garrick – 2 messages is so cute. I’m a very serious high powered executive – and I have hundreds of messages daily requiring my response.” Two, I say. Two. Any more on a regular basis and you may be using your unread count as a status symbol. So, for the next 1500 words we’ll agree there are only 2. Cool? Cool.
Great, let’s take a look at those 2 messages.
One of them is sneaky. By all appearances, it looks like it shifts huge obligation onto your back and that you need to respond immediately to accept this obligation. But re-read it. Do you see it now? That’s right, the whole reason you weren’t able to process this message in the first round is that you’re scanning brain didn’t notice that a key bit of information was missing. In my client work, the things frequently missing from these sorts of emails are: attachments, targeted dollar amounts, dates and locations. Once you’ve figured out what was missing – hit reply and ask for it as apologetically as possible. For missing attachments, I like to use something like, “I’m sorry, the attachment didn’t come through on my end. Please re-send. Thanks.”
Some people enjoy using various auto-responders and snippet extenders to even more quickly reply in these recurring scenarios. If that works for you – excellent. This is more about realizing you haven’t received the information you need to confidently move forward and are replying appropriately. Of the two – this is actually the easiest to deal with. So reply and get it out of your inbox. Don’t fret, when the original sender replies with the requested information – the new message will be unread. Beauty.
When this message returns, it will be that lone message sitting in your inbox keeping you from the clarity of doneness inbox zero brings. So, what do we do with this sole, haunting message. First off – stop. Yes, stop, and ask yourself this one questions: “Are you in a state of mind to actually approach this email in a clear meaningful way?”
Yes, I’m serious.
Up to this point, you’ve been making ruthless, kneejerk decisions to hundreds of messages – rightfully so. None of those messages deserved your full attention. This one does. Stop and breathe. You need to be in the right frame of mind to meaningfully address this message. Clear your mind of any stress, bias, or intonation. This will prevent your kneejerk self from interfering with the thoughtful, calm, deliberate planning stage you’re about to enter. Always start from a place of clarity. If you need a quick, easy way to get there – step away from your devices and take a short 10 minute walk outside. It’s February in Minnesota as I write this – do not doubt my seriousness.
Now that you’ve the energy and clarity to look at this message, what’s likely the very next action you need to perform? Is it; review the proposal and provide a recommendation? schedule an interview with the candidate? prepare monthly progress report for the board?
It’s likely something similar, which means it belongs in your calendar as a commitment – just as a doctors appointment, team meeting, or the board meeting itself. Look at your calendar and schedule when you’ll actually do this thing. Yes, weigh all the constraints, deadlines, and other commitments, move things around if you must. But this first step isn’t really answering ‘what’. It’s answering ‘when’. If you look at your calendar and can’t find a 90 minute block within normal business hours over the next 5 business days where you can dedicate the mental energy to this one task – you’re the wrong person for this one task.
The goal is to move the message from your inbox to a scheduled time on your calendar with all the appropriate information moved into the calendar appointment. The calendar is vessel, not the inbox. The calendar knows your limits and your capacity. The inbox knows nothing of either – it only knows how to receive. To achieve inbox zero reliably and consistently – you must trust your calendar.
If you are the right person, and are unable to find 90 minutes for this task, case, look at all the commitments across your calendar and this new one – and as quickly and ruthlessly as you deleted those 98 emails earlier – identify the commitment you’re going to break. Now draft the appropriate message to the person whose commitment you’re breaking – the key thing here is to gracefully hand over the reins to someone more appropriately skilled.
Even after multi-week stretches of inbox zero, the right message will sit ‘read’ (though marked ‘unread’ repeatedly) while I contemplate the next action. Sometimes, it takes hours to figure out what the missing piece of information was that I still needed (like I said, these #2 messages can be very sneaky). For these messages, I quickly scan my calendar make the appointment and reply something to the effect of: “From your message, I assume X, Y, and you’re ready for me to get started.” More than once the reply has been – “Oh, no. We’re not ready for you yet.” Great. Suddenly I have 90 minutes available on Tuesday.
Either way, I can now focus on my calendar and not on my inbox.
Notice, we still haven’t reached that message where you are actually obliged to work on something. About that lone message that you’ve scheduled time to do. Immediately after scheduling a 90 minute block on your calendar – start a draft reply. Now you won’t need to be search for the original message to initiate a reply – it’s already started in your Drafts folder.
It’s always amazing what can be accomplished in 90 minutes of deliberate effort. In most evenings it’s the time I have for my discretionary activity – watch a movie, read a book, fix a bug, add a feature, write 1000 words. All these things take about an hour and half. Ninety minutes of deliberate effort is more than enough time to do something of significance. Commit to it. During this 90 minute block you’ve dedicated to start working on this task, fully focus on the task. This is the only time you have committed to it and you need to move the project forward. Get to work.
After you complete this first 90 minute session of work, it’s likely that the task is done and the drafted message can be completed or an additional 90 minute session should be scheduled. Do what’s appropriate. Then, instead of reviewing your inbox – do the next thing on your calendar.
Your work is in your calendar – not your inbox. Schedule your days as if every obligation is a it-takes-months-to-get-reservations-at-this-place appointment. It is. Nature abhors a vacuum. Especially when that vacuum is your iCal. If you don’t block off time to do your work – it will be quickly eaten up by pointless meetings, inane conversations, and trolling Facebook. Mapping your day on your calendar – especially a week or two in advance will give you greater confidence, more control over interruptions, and a stronger sense of what is important.
Today, April 5, I planted 6 hops rhizomes (2 each of Chinook, Willamette, Cascade) on the south side of the house, a few inches down in a compost/manure mixture and covered in mulch.
This is my third attempt at growing hops at home. The first year nothing came up. Last year, half the rhizomes broke through the earth only to be destroyed time and time again by a mix of lawnmower, gale force winds, and japanese beetle. I feel much more confident to combat all 3 this year.
“ebook” is shorthand for at least 3 different file formats:
- PDF (you’re likely familiar with this one), it’s been around for 10+ years and almost all devices and browsers can render a PDF. Publishers have a great deal of presentation control in a PDF but PDF renderers on mobile devices aren’t very sophisticated – making the readability questionable.
- ePub – that’s essentially a compressed folder of HTML and CSS files. It’s preferred by Apple, Barnes & Noble, and most everyone else except Amazon.
- .mobi – Amazon’s file format that previously was an non-human-readable binary file – but in the latest version ‘Kindle Format 8‘ is a very comparable to ePub 3.
In may ways you can think of ePub and .mobi files as an offline archive of a webpage. Like a webpage, ebooks can support video, complex styling, links, scripting for complex interactions. Everything you would expect of a modern web experience – but all without a persistent internet connection.
You can think of PDF as, um, well, a frozen Word doc.
Technical publishers like The Pragmatic Programmers and O’Reilly Media (and essentially any publisher that doesn’t have a line of ebook readers) make their publications available in all 3 file formats as a way to serve all their customers.
The annoying thing is each ebook reader (whether a device or a software application) has it’s own presentation and functionality constraints. Some support color – others don’t. Some support tables of data or code samples or embedded fonts well – others completely not at all. In many ways – this is very analogous to publishing a website where, despite the publisher’s intentions and technical potential – presentation & experience is still completely up to the reader’s choice of vendor.
In many ways, the ebook retail space feels identical to the mobile application space. Each ebook retailer takes substantial cut of the purchase price and may or may not have a completely opaque approval process that you may or may not be able to coordinate a market launch against. Thankfully, generating ebooks is very inexpensive compared to app development. There are number of tools that can generate ebooks from pre-existing content – InDesign, Pages, as well as many open-source toolchains like Adobe InDesign, Apple’s Pages, as well as many open-source toolchains like eBook Export for WordPress, Booktype, easybook, bookshop, Bookie, and likely more.
Content that’s primarily text will render fairly well across all ebook readers with these converter tools – some more manual/detailed tweaking may be required to really polish it. Again, similar to web development in this regard.
Unlike the web space, people are accustomed to paying some, how ever paltry, amount for ebooks (and mobile apps).
I see two opportunities for news publishers relative to ebooks:
The first is repackaging existing content into focused, collections on a topic that serve a niche audience in a fuller, more comprehensive manner. A couple examples of this are Neiman Lab’s “The Future of News As We Know It” series of epubs and locally StarTribunes The Cookie Book: 10 Years of Winning Recipes from our Holiday Baking Contest.
The second is longer form work that may not fit in a larger, more general audience print publication. These are articles that really go in-depth and highlight journalistic expertise. Something so good that I’ll want to re-read it again and again. The definitive telling of an issue – that will likely take multiple sittings to finish. Recent examples include the Star Tribune’s In the Footsteps of Little Crow and the New York Times’ Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek.
The thing is, web browsers are now technically sophisticated enough that they elegantly support offline access. In fact, in 2012 O’Reilly acquired the browser-based epub reader ibisreader.com and the company behind it – merging them into Safari Books Online, their on-demand content service.
This just leaves the bigger challenge of getting fans and customers comfortable with paying a meaningful amount for content.
The Current is launching a new stream dedicated to music from Minnesota’s north shore. Online only stream.This stream is in addition to their primary stream, their MN local stream, their kids stream, and the American Heartland stream. That’s 5 streams. Only one of which has an over the air presence.
Which means, today, 80% of The Current’s offerings aren’t available over your car audio. This problem has frustrated me for years – actually a decade (since podcasting’s bootstrap).
Receiving those streams in a car means a cheap enough and reliable enough data connection covers every street and interstate. It also means having at least an auxiliary port in the dashboard. Two of my last 3 vehicles (1997, 2004 model years) didn’t even have that very primitive technology.
“Alert: Within two years, AM and FM will no longer be offered by two automakers. According to the Convergence panel, radio will be gone from all new cars within five years. Since the automotive companies work three years in advance, these decisions are being made now. It appears that radio really will be gone from the dash unless it’s heard through an Internet radio distribution platform.”
This is huge. I predict this will be an extension of the OnStar service.
On Thursday, I wrote this:
In today’s STrib, there’s a feature store on how Best Buy is focusing on the larger, higher margin home appliances, in a higher-end brand (Pacific Kitchen) as a way to compete with online-only retailers and the tight margins on electronics.
TL;DR: Over the past year, I’ve been trying to increase the routine and rhythm in my day for one primary reason – increase and improve creative energy. Essentially, reduce my daily cognitive load for daily tasks thereby increasing the chances of ‘shower thinking’ throughout the day.
Everyday, immediately after I step out of the shower, I floss my teeth. Perhaps it’s not the most logical place in the day for dental hygene. But this is the place in my day where it stuck. For the past six months reaching for the floss at that point in my day has become so natural and routine that I’ve been able to build another behavior atop it – cleaning my glasses. With these small changes in my routine established, I’ve decided to implement some additional changes elsewhere in my day.
The first – wake up before 6:30am each day. As you might expect, this is significantly easier if you retire earlier. I’m sure that’s quite obvious to you. It was a small epiphany to me. Waking up earlier (usually between 5:30 and 6am depending on my Zeo) has reminded me how much I enjoy sunrises. The slowly brightening glow of morning – the chirp of the birds. Even in winter. Arising earlier has also confirmed that I’m a better father once I’ve had an hour to prepare myself for the day. Rather feeling the days have jerky, jarring stops and starts – my days now flow together. I know decisions I make in the evening have a direct impact my morning. Every minute past 10pm means another minute past 6am. Every minute past 6am is another minute I don’t have before the kids want breakfast. Means another minute I don’t have for preparing myself for the day.
Since last October, preparing myself for the day has meant Morning Pages. Three handwritten pages, stream of conscious. Each page takes about 15 minutes. Timed right, the morning sun starts to come through the kitchen window about half way down the third page – the same point the themes in my writing start to come together. There are usually a couple of small To Dos lurking in those pages. Without Morning Pages, I’m sure they’d just haunt me. Instead, they’re completed immediately after putting the notebook away.
Right now, I’m in the midst of training for the Get In Gear Half Marathon. Now, every other day commit to a short (3-5 mile) run before starting any client work. I tried evening runs and afternoon runs. Morning runs have been the most successful. By a long shot.
To track all this I picked up a giant all year calendar from NeuYear.net and a handful of thin whiteboard markers.
Then I went at it all Giles Bowkett-style.
All habits that are yet to stabilize are up there. The index card clipped to the top declares 8 habits and 8 colors. Lines marked across days I complete them.
Things that have been easy to instill that I’m still tracking:
- going to be earlier
- waking up earlier
- writing morning pages
- inbox zero (yes, suprisingly easy sustain inbox zero. More on that later)
“Quiet Days” – defined as not ever, never, directing attention to audio or video media created by someone else. It’s one of the more difficult challenges. Hell, I haven’t marked it off once yet – that’s how difficult I’m finding it. My theory is that every time I turn on the radio (or Pandora, or watch a TED video, or or or or) I’m choosing to not let my ‘shower brain’ offer a clever solution to a problem it’s been working on. Small meditations while driving are amazingly helpful, and so much more peaceful than the fall of civilization presented on broadcast radio. The challenge is in breaking my long-term habit of listening to punk rock and drum-n-bass while working on my hardest problems. The music hurts as much as it once helped. Once I get the first success, I’ll know how to get the second and the third. Yet, even without having a single day crossed off, “Quiet Days” are still the second hardest.
The hardest habit is writing daily for the book project. The mark is 1000 words a day. A humble goal. There are very few marks on the calendar. Fewer than a dozen across 10 weeks. That’s not progress. Writers know this. This isn’t news. Writing is hard work. This is exactly why I’m building routines into my day. The book project is why I’m changing everything else around my. To increase the creative energy I can commit to writing.
Late last year, I read ‘The Power of Full Engagment’, I’ve probably mentioned it to you in a very impassioned tone. It’s good. Here’s what I took away from it: “you’re probably spending your creative energies on things you can do without thinking. Work those things into a routine – and you’ll have the creative energies to do meaningful work.”
The promise is so compelling. Results?
While it’s only 10 weeks into the new year, I’m seeing significant increases in my creative energies. I’m procrastinating far less, I’m feeling more calm, and I’ve sketched out some fresh ideas for projects that have been collecting dust for years. It feels good to move those project forward. And I’m starting to sense the early stages of new projects, new directions, new challenges. Ones that I knew I wouldn’t have noticed with all the cognitive load of determining when I should floss my teeth or clean my glasses.
There. One thousand words.
My last engagement with Best Buy concluded 4 years ago – and even then it was an organization under a radical transformation. These challenges have only increased in the past year. Additionally, many of digital savvy members of Best Buy’s leadership have left. Yet, I’m still quite optimistic for BBY’s future. I still think Best Buy has a unique opportunity to be an inspiring, forward-looking company – much as Microsoft and Google.
The most interesting move in this direction is the partnership between Best Buy and Target – where Best Buy’s Geek Squad staff Target’s electronics desk. They’ll be at 29 Targets – including the one down the street from me (curiously – not T1). This is a chocolate-in-my-peanut-butter partnership that makes you wonder what it didn’t happen sooner. For Best Buy – it exposes the GeekSquad brand and core expertise to a broader customer-base in a venue not know for it’s electronics expertise. Huge win.
Additionally, two other smaller, focused Best Buy stores seem very interesting. The first is the Best Buy Express kiosks in airports and malls (a partnership with Zoom Systems). All the most popular, in demand, portable electronics in a bookcase sized format. My last business trip, I picked up replacement noise-cancelling headphones from a BBY Express on my way to the gate. Easily my fondest Best Buy experience. The second is the Best Buy Mobile stores – focusing on primarily on mobile phones. In my neighborhood, there’s one just across the highway from a Best Buy big box stores. The smaller footprint and focus on portable devices makes them very attractive for strip malls with tight storefronts and likely foot traffic.
Best Buy has extended the Geek Squad brand, portable electronics segment, and mobile phone segment beyond the big box store. What’s next? What would be inspiring and forward looking?
In 1956, Frank Lloyd Wright built a gas station in Cloquet, MN. The architecture was based off his Broadacre City project – his vision of a modern urban landscape. Of the gas station he said:
“Watch the little gas station – In our present gasoline service station you may see a crude beginning to such important advance decentralization” – Frank Lloyd Wright
Today, our cars are mostly gasoline-powered mobile computers with wheels. Some of them are even electric mobile computers on wheels with gasoline backup. Whether it’s the electronics with the cars going on the fritz, the additional electronics we put in them not working right, or the two not talking to each other in the way we want our vehicles are now need computer support. Our GeekSquad needs have moved from the home office to the living room to our cars.
For years Best Buy has sold and installed car stereos. Though, it’s never felt like they really cared about that part of the store (same for home appliances). So, I say, send the car stereo section out into the world – just as they have with the GeekSquad and the portable electronics. Partner with someone that knows automotive, with a number of convenient, small footprint locations, and a well-known brand. Someone like JiffyLube. Use the partnership to promote the next generation of automobile technologies: self-driving cars, electric charging stations, natural gas refueling stations, replacement batteries, new interfaces between driver and machine, new passenger entertainment options, the next generation wayfinding systems.
Do something no one else can do – create a place that makes the future of the American car a reality.