Introducing ‘Expand’ – My Twitter-driven Newsletter

Each weekday morning I publish 3 actionable messages – on Twitter, LinkedIn, – to inspire you to make dramatic improvements in your professional and personal lives.

On Friday afternoons, I count up the reposts, favorites, and replies for each of these 15 messages across all 3 social networks. For the 3 messages receiving the most, I write up an expanded version and send it out.

If you’d like a sample, here’s last week’s newsletter:

Expand Newsletter – Week of Apr 28:

“You don’t need a new tool. You need to commit to getting more out of the ones you have.”

54 retweets, 33 favorites, 1 reply

Every few weeks a new video gadget comes on the market promising to make it easier to watch Netflix or your other preferred streaming video service on your TV. Each successive gadget has a smaller price tag than the previous one and so I look. Then I remember – I have a TiVo. It’s been doing all that internet video streaming for 7 years.

My MacBook Air is 3 years old. Every few months, I think I should switch to a Linux desktop and buy the latest Ultrabook model. Then I remember I have VirtualBox installed and, if I really wanted to use Ubuntu or ElementaryOS everyday I could while completely hiding the underlying OS X interface and not spending a dime.

Last year, I picked up a half dozen Python books as step 1 to learn how to write Python. I haven’t even cracked them open, as I remembered that I already know Ruby, PHP, and Javascript. Knowing Python a little bit might help me a little bit. Putting that exact same amount of effort into knowing Ruby, PHP, Javascript better will provide me a faster return.

In Merlin Mann’s seminal work, ‘Make Believe Help and Old Butchers’, he discusses the stages of becoming an expert in a skill. He argues that the media’s continual promotion of the latest life hack and iPhone app are actually stalling skill development at ‘Advanced Beginner.’ The only way to become an expert is to commit to a tool, a technique, a process, until it fails you spectacularly. Doing that means ignoring the latest shiny gadget and committing to the work with the current tools, learning where they’re insufficient, where they excel, and incrementally building out your toolbelt accordingly.

“If it has a deadline, it’s not your most important work.”

12 retweets, 19 favorites, 2 replies

Finishing my journalling project, making my wife feel loved and appreciated, making each of my kids feel loved and appreciated, staying healthy, calling my mom, reviewing my 5 year goals, researching my family history, figuring out what I want my life to be like in 25 years, identifying and pursuing my best clients.

None of these have a hard deadlines associated with them. Though if I ignore them, they’ll very likely go pear-shaped very quickly. I don’t want that, so I commit the time and energy to them they deserve. Surprisingly, none of these require a regular, multi-hour, contiguous block of time.

Contrast that with a stereotypical day job; requires 8+ hours of your energy for at least 5 days and includes regular hard, stress-filled, and perhaps artificial deadlines. I say artificial because the deadlines for all my best client projects were far more malleable than they first appeared. A few days or weeks is far less of a concern than being happy with both the progress and the results. The opposite is also true – all the projects I’ve been involved with drop-dead-hard deadlines were some of the worst. While work concluded when the date on the calendar was reached – no one was happy with the result. This has happened so consistently that if I’m talking with a prospective client about a prospective project and they declare a specific date they want the work completed by – I politely decline. An arbitrary date is obviously more important to them than work of any significance.

“To do lists are the inventory. Calendars are the means of production.”

6 retweets, 11 favorites, 1 reply

This morning 2 people asked for a meeting sometime a few weeks for now. I looked at my calendar, picked a day and time that worked and replied requesting confirmation that it worked on their end as well. Both did. Booked. Two potential To Do items: ‘Schedule meeting with David’ and ‘Schedule meeting with Lee’ were completed before they even made it to a To Do list.

I don’t have a To Do list, I have a calendar.

I put every promise and commitment on my calendar. Not just doctors appointments, client meetings, and special family outings. I also schedule reminders to review my bank accounts, to visit the gym, for the next action in my quarterly goals. Every project, every promise, every next action is scheduled in my calendar. Yes, this means my calendar is completely booked for the next 2 weeks and becomes less so the further out I look. But I also know the answer to any question that starts with ‘When’. When and I going to work on this project? (tomorrow morning, 9:30-11:30), on that project? (next Tuesday, 8:30-noon), when am I taking time for myself? (Friday afternoon, 1-4p), When am I cutting my hair? (Saturday 7:30a).

It’s so tempting to use To Do lists like grocery lists and write out everything you could possibly ever want with no concern for available capacity (money for the groceries, and time for To Do items). I’m very aware of how constrained my time capacity is – this means I better be working on the most important things I can in that time. Yes, things get shifted around. Knowing my capacity and having everything on the calendar means I can be flexible. Frequently, at the end of the day, I’ll review the activities I’ve scheduled for the evening and compare them against my level of energy, and I’ll frequently move things around. Life happens – so I frequently shift things around. In fact, just this week a big meeting I had scheduled for Thursday afternoon was rescheduled earlier – to Tuesday afternoon. To accommodate that, I needed to shift my Monday and Tuesday priorities. Now, I suddenly had unexpected capacity Thursday afternoon. Which was promptly filled by a new client meeting.

Scheduling has the added benefit of reducing my cognitive load. At the end of a long day, I don’t stare exhausted and overwhelmed at a lengthy To Do list. My calendar says I’ve committed to 1 thing and I should get started.