I’m not sure how this became a longer thing than it is. Maybe that’s because prioritization, the subject of this piece, is a longer, harder thing to do than it seems at a distance. Anyway, this illustration started as a little morning drawing of an idea that I revisited from a book excerpt and grew into the series of illustrations below. It’s been a fun exercise in playing with a brush pen, seeing how I could talk about an idea thorough pictures, and put together disparate pieces of each into some sort of whole (using GIMP for image editing). Here are the different illustration “parts” explained with the compined composite I created at the end.
Visited another new place in Scotland and spent much of the week there:
Islay and Jura are two isles (islands) off the west coast of Scotland known for being remote, sparsely populated, wild, beautiful and full of some of the best whisky in the world. My Dad and I ventured out to find all of this to be very true indeed.
Favorite new music: The latest from Makaya McCraven, We’re New Again: A Reimagining has been a great companion to lunches and sketching.
The Chicago drummer and producer transforms Gil-Scott Heron’s final album into a masterpiece of dirty blues, spiritual jazz, and deep yearning.
Quote that made me think:
Don’t allow your rituals to become ruts.Todd Henry
George Leonard and The Power of the Mind: this reference came up from a previous book note, and I read the Esquire article that provided the seed for his later book, Mastery.
This frontier thinking has venerable roots, especially in the Eastern martial arts, all of which share a common faith in an energy source called ki in Japanese, ch’i in Chinese, pneuma in Greek, and prana in Sanskrit. In the ancient tradition, ki is the fundamental energy of the universe that connects and relates all things. By controlling the flow of this energy in one’s own body or projecting it toward external objects, the martial artist can supposedly achieve extraordinary powers. Legends abound of masters who can stop an opponent in his tracks from halfway across the room or even throw him head over heels. Karate practitioners generally claim that ki, even more than muscular strength, makes it possible for them to break bbards or concrete blocks.
Thus far, ki has proved difficult to measure, and skeptics tend to attribute its powers to suggestion, a sort of dynamic placebo effect. To the pragmatist, this distinction is unimportant. As a practitioner of aikido, an art in which ki plays an especially important role, I’ve generally found a strong correlation between my perception of personal ki and the power of my techniques. The idea of ki can offer the untrained person an effective way of gaining a sensation of increased energy along with relaxation, especially during times of fatigue and stress. Here’s an exercise designed to demonstrate the power that can come from visualizing ki.
I didn’t know much about George Leonard and his book prior, but based on a brief scan of notes from James Clear’s blog, I plan to pick it up.
Sir William Osler and the power of work: Osler was one of the most important figures in the founding of modern medicine, and said the following in one of his books:
Let each hour of the day have its allotted duty, and cultivate that power of concentration which grows with its exercise, so that the attention neither flags nor wavers, but settles with bull-dog tenacity on the subject before you. Constant repetition makes a good habit fit easily in your mind, and by the end of the session you may have gained that most precious of all knowledge—the power of work.
From Cal Newport:
We don’t teach this any more.
Modern educational institutions care a lot about content: what theories we teach, what ideas students are exposed to, what skills they come away knowing. But we rarely address the more general question of how one transforms their mind into a tool well-honed for elite-level cognitive work.
Book excerpt that I loved:
Although the strategy of gaining happiness by working to get whatever it is we find ourselves wanting is obvious and has been used by most people throughout recorded history and across cultures, it has an important defect, as thoughtful people throughout recorded history and across cultures have realized: For each desire we fulfill in accordance with this strategy, a new desire will pop into our head to take its place. This means that no matter how hard we work to satisfy our desires, we will be no closer to satisfaction than if we had fulfilled none of them. We will, in other words, remain dissatisfied.” (William B. Irvine, A Guide to the Good Life)
How to be perfect: A poem by Ron Padgett that’s got some brilliant advice and a subtle power. I’m adding it to my regular re-read list. Here’s just a small sampling (it’s much longer):
Look at that bird over there.
After dinner, wash the dishes.
Visit foreign countries, except those whose inhabitants have expressed a desire to kill you.
Don’t expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want to.
Meditate on the spiritual. Then go a little further, if you feel like it.
What is out (in) there?
HT to Austin Kleon
What made me grateful last week:
- Re-discovering cribbage and playing cards. Can’t think of a better way to end a day.
- Working from home meant more time with my Dad during his visit.
- Doing blind self-portraits with Vivian:
Lastly, check out what we’re up to now.
Giving thanks travels well: Celebrating Thanksgiving outside of the US is a bit different. Thanksgiving travels well, even if your neighbours don’t have the Thursday off to drink and eat all day. It’s a holiday about gratitude, which everyone can get behind. I was fortunate to spend it with great people this year. I’m also grateful for all the sources of inspiration this year, such as Austin Kleon, Cal Newport, Haruki Murukami, John McPhee, Tyler Cowen, Shane Parrish, Seth Godin, Sam Harris, Ben Franklin, Jason Fried, Steve Martin, Tim Ferriss, and Paulo Cohelo…to name a few.
Book excerpt I was thinking about last week:
“What veteran artists share in common is that they have learned how to get on with their work. Simply put, artists learn how to proceed, or they don’t. The individual recipe any artist finds for proceeding belongs to that artist alone — it’s non-transferable and of little use to others.” (David Bayles, Ted Orland, Art & Fear)
I love the first part. And, while I think there is an important point in the second part (you need to figure out things for yourself), I find the individual recipes of others an endless source of inspiration and of much use.
Another book excerpt that made me think about my current work and what I spend the most amount of my time doing (albeit as a novice at the moment):
“An untrained observer will see only physical labor and often get the idea that physical labor is mainly what the mechanic does. Actually the physical labor is the smallest and easiest part of what the mechanic does. By far the greatest part of his work is careful observation and precise thinking.” (Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance)
I think a lot of us are like a mechanic in how we work, or at least it would be helpful to think of ourselves in that way.
What it’s like when a distributed company gets together: I missed “the grand meetup” this year but a recent Distibuted podcast covered this years’ get together in detail. I’m looking forward to it next year!
It can be especially difficult to foster a company culture when workers aren’t co-located. It can’t be forced into existence in an employee handbook. The people who make up the company have to live it and embrace it.
The GM addresses this challenge in several ways, including a number of traditions that have developed over the years. For example, the all-company photo — this year, it included so many people that resident photographer (and Automattic’s first employee!) Donncha Ó Caoimh had to take it from a roof overlooking the crowd. Each event ends with a big party, where an all-Automattician band provides the soundtrack. Matt Mullenweg holds an hours-long Town Hall where anyone from across the company can ask the CEO a question directly. These highlights help to cultivate a sense of togetherness and shared values.
Don’t believe everything you read: I learned that previously boiled water isn’t really any different than fresh water, at least as far as my coffee is concerned.
I should make more time for poetry: Away messages made me think this.
Whenever an old poet — an old poet — dies, I can’t get too upset. This is what they’ve been training for! I think. It’s go time!
Quote that I was thinking about:
People are most vociferously opposed to those forces they have to resist most fiercely in themselves.Tim Krieder
The 50 best nonfiction books of the past 25 years: Interesting list. There are definitely some on here I am going to add for 2020.
The story behind the graphing calculator: How Texas Instruments Monopolized Math Class.
Today, Texas Instruments still sells a dozen or so different calculator models intended for different kinds of students, ranging from the TI-73 and TI-73 Explorer for middle school classes to the TI-Nspire CX and TI-Nspire CX CAS ($149), an almost smartphone-like calculator with more processing power. But the most popular calculators, teachers tell me, include the TI-83 Plus ($94), launched in 1999; the TI-84 Plus ($118), launched in 2004; the very similar TI-84 Plus Silver Edition, also launched in 2004; and the TI-89 Titanium ($128).
“As a former teacher, I was appalled at the pricing, not only for educators but for the families who were forced to pay inflated prices for the damn things,” she told me. “The margin is incredible. I can’t verify the exact numbers, but the margin was like 85% 90%.” In comparison, PC manufacturers like HP, Lenovo, Dell, Asus, and Acer have profit margins below 3%. (Texas Instruments did not return a request for comment for this story.)
This made me laugh:
From Wired’s cartoons.
Lastly, if you are interested in what we’re up to now, click here.
Book excerpt I loved:
“One other way I keep healthy is by taking a nap. I really nap a lot. Usually I get sleepy right after lunch, plop down on the sofa, and doze off. Thirty minutes later I come wide awake. As soon as I wake up, my body isn’t sluggish and my mind is totally clear. This is what they call in southern Europe a siesta. I think I learned this custom when I lived in Italy, but maybe I’m misremembering, since I’ve always loved taking naps. Anyway, I’m the type of person who, once he gets sleepy, can fall sound asleep anywhere. Definitely a good talent to have if you want to stay healthy, but the problem is I sometimes fall fast asleep in situations where I shouldn’t.”Haruki Murakami and Philip Gabriel, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running
Love this graphic and wrote about it here: A debug mindset.
A great tool for learning (to type!): Keybr.com. Many may think me strange for wanting to learn to touch-type properly, but so much of my work and interest relies on typing words on a screen it’s crazy that I can’t (like most) and I’ve decided that’s no going to cut it any longer. I’ve been doing 30-60 mins a day for just under two weeks now and it’s pretty amazing. It seemed super daunting and undoable at first but it’s been a remarkable experiment.
What Is Touch Typing?
Touch typing is the ability to use muscle memory to find keys fast, without using the sense of sight, and with all the available fingers, just like piano players do. It significantly improves typing speed and eliminates errors. Touch typing simply makes you more productive and it is a skill worth learning. However, many people engage in the bad habit of ‘hunt-and-peck’ typing, even those seasoned professionals with years and decades of computer experience. It is easy to understand, though, as touch typing requires dedicated practice to learn it well.
Quote I was thinking about:
We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same.Carlos Castaneda
On that note, I also wrote about a refreshing change.
Article I enjoyed: The misconception fo the wild. Cool to learn about the shift of focus for the forestry service and how they view the public’s relationship to the land.
The people of the Forest Service do this work not just because of a spiritual connection with nature, but because our world is burning. To begin to confront the impending end of the natural world, we have to redefine our relationship with land — and understand that it does not only exist for our own needs.
Longreads has great excerpts for this one. Worth a read.
Check out what we’re up to now.
The importance of doing it now: My last day with Microsoft was last week and I thought I’d have a lot more time in the final weeks/days to say thank you to all of those people that I learned from and who helped me out. I got to a few but, for most, the time ran out. A good reminder to tell people your thankful the moment you think about it (technology is your friend here), don’t wait until it’s too late. The end of my leaving note that I posted last week read as follows:
If you find yourself in Scotland in the near future, please drop me a line. It’s been an honor and a pleasure to work with you all and I will forever be grateful for all you have taught me. As Elbert Hubbard once said, so here is a handclasp over the miles, and I am, yours sincerely,
“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.” – Louis L’Amour
A potential replacement for Trello and OneNote: I learned about a tool called Notion last week and am in the process of trying it out to track all our UK move stuff (instead of OneNote/Trello). Pretty interesting so far.
Thinking about niche over broad: LinkedIn recently posted a bit about how it’s algorithm is changing, which I thought was pretty interesting. I like to say I’m not interested in getting the most ‘likes’, but I am hoping to contribute something of value, and there aren’t too many other ways to gauge whether I’m doing that or not. I thought the best practice of sharing content that is “niche over broad” is insightful way beyond social posts, and applies to all types of creating. Are you going for the masses or are you trying to make something that you know will be valued by at least one person out there? What are you giving up with each approach?
Niche over broad
– We know from our data that members are more interested in going deep on topics they’re interested in. Consistently we see better conversation around niche ideas (eg #performancemanagement) than the broad (#management).
– Use hashtags (we recommend no more than three) to help other members find the conversations that match their own interests.
New music to move (and work) to: I saw The True Loves play at big Microsoft event recently (they were formerly fronted by Grace Love) and their album Famous Last Words has been on regularly while we’ve been packing up getting ready for the move.
Very few decisions actually matter: Loved this post from Charlie Kindel, One-Way and Two-Way Doors, which is centered around a Jeff Bezos quote from one of his shareholder letters. At the end he links to an article by Richard Branson on the same topic. Leaving Microsoft last week after 13 years was definitely a two-way door decision. But leaving and moving to Scotland, probably less so. Similar to the 80/20 rule, spend time only on the decisions, priorities, tasks, etc. that really matter! 🙂
“Some decisions are consequential and irreversible or nearly irreversible – one-way doors – and these decisions must be made methodically, carefully, slowly, with great deliberation and consultation.”
“But most decisions aren’t like that – they are changeable, reversible – they’re two-way doors. If you’ve made a suboptimal two-way door decision, you don’t have to live with the consequences for that long. You can reopen the door and go back through. These decisions can and should be made quickly by high judgment individuals or small groups.”
Favorite book excerpt:
All the good stories are out there waiting to be told in a fresh, wild way. Mark Twain said that Adam was the only man who, when he said a good thing, knew that nobody had said it before. Life is like a recycling center, where all the concerns and dramas of humankind get recycled back and forth across the universe.From Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont
(Oh, and that drawing is from one of my old sketchbooks from 1995 that I’ve been combing through as we get ready to move. I decided to keep that one. Woo ha!)