If You’re Flaky, Be Good Flaky

Some people are flaky.  Always flitting from thing to thing, idea to idea.  By the time others get on board they’ve already moved on.

If this is you don’t fear.  You don’t need to curb your curiosity or appetite for change in order to be successful.

Flaky can be a good thing.  I know people who channel this ADD tendency into amazing productivity.  They get excited by a lot of different things and their attention shifts rapidly, but they act on that excitement immediately.  These are people who no sooner get excited by an idea and they’re blogging about it or buying three books on Amazon.  They read the subject, launch the club, have the conversations, and start the project.  They may leave loose ends and sometimes move too quickly, but they leave a beneficial surplus of ideas and energy in their wake that gets picked up by others.

Good flaky shifts attention rapidly but “ships” just as rapidly.

Flaky can be a bad thing too.  I know people who have the same ADD tendencies but with each new interest it’s only talk.  They constantly talk about what they’re going to do, what new thing they’ve discovered, the newest solutions, movements, cures.  They always have something in progress or “almost ready”.  Articles they want to write, websites about to launch, events they are planning with their friend, some new thing or another.  They get you excited but don’t deliver.

Bad flaky shifts attention rapidly and never “ships” anything.

Productive flakes are fun and can be a boon to a team or cause.  It’s pretty easy for people to know their strengths and limitations.  They don’t do well in long-term managerial roles, but they are great for creative projects and rallying people around short-term visions.  They are the kind of people who get away with breaking rules.  People accommodate them and don’t demand as much predictability and consistency.  They can be late.  They can drop communication sometimes.  They can forget things.  These are annoying but known traits that become tolerable given the constant production.  Just when you’re about to get mad that a ball was dropped, a brilliant piece of work you never expected emerges.  Getting sh*t done covers a multitude of eccentricities.

Unproductive flakes are frustrating and drag projects and people down.  They have the same exciting energy and stream of ideas at first, which makes the failure to deliver all the worse.  The roller-coaster of expectations and disappointments gets old fast.  They get ignored.  They burn through social capital.  Their emails don’t get responses.  Ideas and a fun attitude are not enough.  If you’re not shipping they become annoying.  The bad flake turns their greatest asset into a liability.

It’s pretty simple.

If you know you have ADD tendencies, be a good flake.  Immediately act.  Don’t let the moment of inspiration go.  Your lack of long-term focus doesn’t have to ruin you.  But overcome the fear or insecurity or laziness or whatever holds you back and act on your inspiration immediately, always, every time.  You’ll amass a great body of work, gain a solid reputation, and have a lot of fun.

Whatever you do, don’t talk about your latest passion unless and until you’ve shipped something to show for it.

(If you’re not at all prone to flakiness, this post isn’t for you.  Sorry.  You have a different challenge with too much cost-benefit analysis or an obsession over options.)

Being Me or Being Lazy?

So many days I don’t have it in me to write a really thorough post.

It’s not that I don’t have ideas. I’ve got drafts that could be really fleshed out almost always on hand.  It’s that doing more than a few paragraphs that quickly describe the core idea in those drafts is really hard work sometimes. 

I tell myself I’m just being true to my style.  I write about broad principles and simple observations in a single quick take.  I’m not Mr. Investigative Reporter or lengthy describer. I write every day so I can’t labor over every idea with thousands of words. 

Part of that is absolutely true. I’m just not sure how much.

The days I really push to add more meat to the bones of an idea are harder, but more rewarding. The content is better and I feel pretty damn good about it.

Still, I’m not a writer first and foremost. I write as therapy and a tool to enhance productivity, creativity, and happiness.  So why do I need to always go big?

I’m normally at peace with this tension, but sometimes I wonder. How often am I just being lazy when I think I’m being me?

2015: A Personal Year in Review

Four great reads!


Alright, my good friend and Praxis colleague TK Coleman convinced me to share this personal recap in a blog post after I shared it with him in an email.  It feels a little weird or narcissistic, but I guess a little reflection is permitted this time of year.  Besides, I had nothing to write today and I’m not going to miss my daily post!

Praxis is the main driver of my activities and goals, and our continued growth, amazing network of business partners, totally awesome alumni and participants, and expanded offerings (about to be announced!) make me proud of what we’ve done in 2015 and excited about 2016.  Beyond the business, I also have a few personal goals, all still very much related to my mission of freedom and progress.

What was my 2015 like?  Mostly laying groundwork and exploring new ways to create.  Here’s some of the stuff I accomplished that I’m most proud of:

  • Blogged every day.
  • Launched a podcast and released 64 episodes with 40 different guests.
  • Started writing on Medium and gained over 250,000 article views and more than 5,900 followers.
  • Did more than 30 (can’t remember exact number) of interviews on podcasts, news outlets, etc.
  • Gave more than 20 presentations in 15 cities.
  • Published two more books, bringing the total to four.
  • Recorded a song for the first time ever!
  • Read about 30 books.
  • Travelled with the family to Florida and Pittsburgh, and spent a week in Jamaica with my wife.
  • Published in more than 20 different outlets.
  • Launched a monthly newsletter.
  • Gained more than 2,000 new social media followers.
  • Ran a successful KickStarter campaign raising $5,379 for a $4,850 goal.
  • Booked a six-week trip to Ecuador for the family.
  • Ruthlessly removed even more stuff from my life leaving me less stressed and less crunched for time than I’ve ever been.
  • Had a total reach of 491,652 though the podcast, blog, and articles I have data for. (This one gets me.  My goal for the year was 500,000.)*

I certainly had some shortcomings in 2015.  I missed my goal to do one form of exercise a day probably 5% of the time (which is embarrassing when you realize I consider even a few pushups sufficient.)  Though I hit my daily blogging goal, too many days I churned out something less than what I think I could have in terms of quality.  I didn’t read as many books as I wanted to, and almost no fiction, which I planned to read a lot of.

Most of all, I feel like my efforts at being a good, peaceful, calm unschooling dad fell short in everything but theory.  I now know clearly what kind of parent I want to be and why (both huge improvements over the last few years trying to figure it out), but I still struggle every single day to translate that head knowledge into daily habits and behaviors.  Hopefully my kids are as resilient as I suspect they are.

Again in 2016 Praxis is the focus.  Outside of my family, it’s what I live and breathe and I’ll be focusing even more tightly on our goals for the business and everything we stand for.  I do have a few personal goals I’m thinking about for the year ahead as well.  Possibly another book, growing the podcast, perhaps changing up my writing routine to do longer pieces weekly instead of shorter posts daily (still trying to decide on this one), etc.

Regardless, thanks to every single one of you who has read, clicked, liked, shared, listened, commented, loved, critiqued, and even openly hated what I’ve been creating.  I’ve always said I do this for me, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it feels great to connect with people over the ideas I love!

(In case you’re wondering, by far the most popular piece in 2015 was this article on why playing LEGO is better than learning algebra.  The most popular podcast episode was this interview with my son on being unschooled.)

*UPDATE: 12/31/15 – For unknown reasons, a few old posts of mine got picked up again and generated a ton of views right after I wrote this.  Just after noon on December 31, I broke the 500,000 mark.  Here’s to a goal being met!

The Quantity of Stuff in Your Life is More Important than Your System

Praxis grad James Walpole blogged today about the problems of too much focus on optimization and “life hacking”.

It got me thinking about those I know who struggle to keep their head above water.  People who are creative and productive, but perpetually behind and stressed and overwhelmed.  If you’re in that position, I’m going to share a belief that might be depressing, but it might also be heartening: there is no system that can fix it.

You can’t implement a new schedule, or tool, or plugin, or diet, or any other new way of organizing and executing on your stuff that will save you.  These systems may be better or worse, but they can’t address the fundamental thing keeping you buried.  It’s the quantity of stuff in your life that’s the problem.

I don’t mean physical possessions, though that can be part of it, I mean stuff that’s not core to your mission but that you do or pay attention to or simply keep around anyway.  It’s open tabs on your browser that you don’t need to read.  It’s emails in your inbox you don’t need to keep.  It’s events and engagements you can do without.

If your day is a pipeline transforming inputs to outcomes, no re-arrangement of the pipes can handle the fact that you’re flooding the system with three times the volume it can handle.  Or, to use another water analogy, if your progress is a body of water, compare the power of a highly concentrated, pressurized stream like a fire hose, vs. a flood plain sloppily sloshing around.

Cut the stuff out.  Focus only on the things that give and create energy.  That’s when your systems and life-hacks will begin to work.  Then they can improve things at the margin.  But until you reduce the overwhelming quantity of stuff in your life, no system can save you.

Coffee Is Killing Your Productivity

“Let’s grab coffee and chat.”

Those five words are far more dangerous than you may realize.  When you begin to create, start a business, write a blog, or generally do interesting stuff a funny thing happens.  Lots of people want to have coffee with you.  Most of the time it’s a bad idea.

Face to face meetings can be valuable.  There’s an energy that you don’t get any other way.  But the cost is very high, and it’s extremely rare to gain that energy with a stranger.  Unless you know from interactions over email, social media, or phone that you and this person have mutual interests and will both be spurred to beneficial action by a coffee meeting, avoid it.

It’s not that coffee isn’t fun.  That’s the problem.  It is fun.  Waxing about how much you love innovation or art is a blast.  But that’s not scarce.  There are more opportunities to talk about cool things than ever before.  What’s scarce is conversation that leads directly to productivity.

There are professional coffee drinkers.  People who spend all day asking others to coffee to talk.  They keep talking, meeting, discussing, exploring, plotting, networking, devising, gaining input, seeking inspiration, building consensus, creating boards and backers and teams for non-existent organizations or efforts.  These people will consume you.

(One of my theories is that they are actually robots placed by an alien race that feels threatened by creative action on the part of humans.  They sent a host of coffee-sipping droids disguised as cool people who love your idea as a way to slow you down.  They are fueled by caffeine and lack of follow through.  Just a theory.)

It’s easy to emulate this behavior.  You get a quick high from talking about big ideas with cool people over hot drinks.  Hammering out the next steps and taking them is no fun.  The coffee grinds taste better than the work grind. (See what I did there?).  It’s easy to seek the next quick inspiring hit via another quick coffee or phone meeting.  Then again.  And again.

Working for a non-profit increases susceptibility.  Absent profit and loss it can be hard to measure success.  As a result, many non-profiters report activities as a proxy for outcomes.  If you’re a program manager and you report that you had an amazing meeting with a really cool person who runs similar program X, your superiors are likely to think, “This gal is really going out there and doing a lot of stuff!”.  (In fact, non-profits are so predictably prone to the meeting-as-work conflation that I can tell without looking when someone works for one.  They send meeting requests not for a 15 or 20-minute phone call, but a full hour with an open-ended, “Can I pick your brain?”)

None of us are above it.  It’s flattering to be asked to coffee by someone who thinks your stuff is great.  But it almost always eats away a huge chunk of your time and energy with very little in the way of a tangible outcome.  You can feel like you’re doing something because your calendar is booked with coffee and conversation and you don’t have time for stuff.  But busyness is not business.

Don’t let flattery or a quick high or the open-ended hope that some synergy just might magically appear let you fall into the perpetual coffee meeting malaise.

And be on the lookout for the people who ask you for coffee the first time they meet you.  They might be evil alien robots trying to stop your progress.

Why I Don’t Read the Comments

Because it makes me less happy.

That’s it. There’s no other deep principle or reason. This is also why I occasionally do read them. It (rarely) can be enjoyable. 

I don’t dislike commenters or discussion. For some reason it detracts from my enjoyment of life to read comments. Maybe that’s a shortcoming of mine. Who knows. All I know is that my life is better and I get more done and am happier when I completely ignore them.

It’s freeing to remind myself that I don’t owe responses to critics or commenters. Realizing I can ignore them actually makes me a little more likely to occasionally engage them.  But it’s still a rare occasion. 

Life’s too short to do things you don’t like doing.

Guest Post: Here’s How I Work, Levi Morehouse Edition

So my brother Levi was asked to do this and he emailed me saying, “I’d like to, but how would I even share it?  I’m like a grandpa when it comes to online platforms.”  I told him I’d share it on my blog because it’s interesting and entertaining to me and, I suspect, my readers, half of which are our mother.

Levi is the hardest working person I’ve ever met, and also (paradoxically) one of the most laid back in some weird way.  I’ll let him take it from here.


(This is Levi)

My former employee James “J-Train” Walpole recently answered the Life Hacker “How I Work” challenge. Now I’ve been called to give an account of how I get things done. Here goes:


Location: Charleston, South Carolina
Current Gig(s): Founder of Ceterus
Current Mobile Device: iPhone 6
Current Computer: Surface Pro
One Word That Best Describes Your Work: Passion (I love what I do)


For work: Google Apps, Asana, Zoho CRM.
For clients: QuickBooks Online, Bill.com, ZenPayroll (now Gusto).
For me: Fanduel, Yahoo Fantasy Football, Voxer


We have an open office environment, where I often work while walking around outside taking phone calls (I have been told I am too loud to stay inside). The environment is 100% flexible, in that staff can work from the office, their home, or anywhere they can be valuable. For me, this is almost always the office itself.


Inbox management. There is no one way (although mine is pretty awesome and simple), but owning your inbox leads to major time saved.


Gmail inbox/labels.


My iPhone wallet case. I hate “things”, and until the phone itself replaces my Amex and drivers license, having these affixed to my phone is ideal.


No one empowers entrepreneurs with innovative financial reporting and on-time bookkeeping better than I do with my team at Ceterus. Note to the reader: asking an accountant this questions will lead to a very lame and boring answer, see mine above. Sorry.


I’m currently reading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and Venture Deals by Brad Feld and Jason Mendelson, and I am always re-reading Zero to One by Peter Thiel.


One of the first tasks for my newer employees is to setup a station for me on Pandora. This ranges from hip-hop, to folk and as long as it is loud it works for me.


I enjoy people, but am an introvert at the core.


I get up at 4:48 on weekdays. I try to sleep 5-8 hours per night, but do not have a set bed time. I wake with an iPhone alarm in the adjacent room. I am currently working to never use snooze (results are mixed to-date).


Isaac Morehouse, as he is so kind to post this for me (a social media neophyte).

[It just so happens, I beat him to it and answered yesterday.]


My longtime youth basketball coach, friend and father figure once told me “I only remember the shots that go in”. As a confidence-lacking young athlete who was more focused on not messing up than on being great, this advise was instrumental in my hoops game at the time and in all life decisions since. Play to make the shot, don’t play to not miss.



Here’s How I Work

My colleagues at Praxis and I found this exercise to be fun and useful, so now it’s my turn to answer.


Location: Mount Pleasant, SC
Current gig: CEO of Praxis
Current mobile device: iPhone 6
Current computer: ASUS Zenbook. It’s gorgeous and wonderful.
One word that best describes how you work: Fast.

What apps/software/tools can’t you live without?

Gmail, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Voxer, WordPress, the Scrabble app, fantasy football apps, and Momentum.

What’s your workspace like?

Tiny.  I purposely have a ridiculously small, clear desk.  I don’t want space for anything on it.  It contains my beautiful sleek laptop, and usually a giant stein of water, and sometimes a few books I’m reading.  I move around and work from different places in the house sometimes too.  My office is actually just a small section of the bedroom, since I got kicked out of my designated office room.  I work from home and as my kids grow they take up more space.  Since I travel a lot and don’t really care where I work, I moved.  I could work in a broom closet as long as it wasn’t cluttered and I got to take walks outside.

What’s your best time-saving trick?

Delete, shred, destroy.  I get rid of absolutely everything nonessential.  Immediately.  I am ruthless with throwing away paper mail, physical notes, business cards, receipts, and other odds and ends.  I am also a strict zero inbox guy, keeping on top of my emails frees my time, but more importantly my mind, to create.

Also saying no.  Often.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

I’ve tried Asana, Google Tasks, Slack, and several others.  None of them end up being that valuable.  I use Google Calendar and the native Sticky Notes app on Windows, or if I’m not at my computer the native Notes app on the iPhone.  I leave myself Voxer messages in the My Notes thread sometimes too.  Everything else gets too complicated.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

Since I just bought a Kindle Paperwhite so I don’t overflow my room with more books, I’m hoping it will become indispensable.  I’m still a lover of physical books, so we’ll see.  Otherwise no particular gadgets really matter much.  I did just get a waterproof mp3 player from a friend that lets me listen to podcasts while swimming, so that might become a necessity too.  Until the weather gets too cold to swim.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

Mornings.  I’m awesome when I wake up.  I’m happy, eager, productive, and full of energy and optimism…even before coffee.

I’m also pretty solid at writing good, concise emails.

What are you currently reading?

Siddartha by Herman Hesse, Mimesis by Erich Auerbach, The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss, Outwitting the Devil by Napolean Hill (rereading), and Finite and Infinite Games by James Carse (rereading).

What do you listen to while you work?

While writing I either listen to a playlist on Spotify of Moby songs, or a station on Pandora called “Yoga music”.  While doing less creative stuff I might listen to some Led Zeppelin, or ’90’s era hip hop, or 80’s New Wave, or anything sappy with vocals I can belt out.  If I’m not writing, I mix it up quite a bit.  When I’m writing, it’s only ethereal mood music.

Are you more of an introvert or an extrovert?

I’m definitely an extrovert based on any personality test or technical definition.  However, in the last 5 years my ratio of time I need to be with people and time I need to be alone has reversed.  Now for every one hour I spend “on” and around people I need four hours alone.  It used to be the opposite.  I can go mix it up or give a talk or be at an event and enjoy it, but I really, desperately need to get out and be alone for long periods of time afterwards, and I am (no longer) ever the last one at the party, but more likely one of the first to leave.  I’d rather be alone writing or reading or watching a Sci-Fi with my wife than anything else.

What’s your sleep routine like?

It’s not always like this, especially with travel, but my ideal routine is: go to sleep when my mind wants to, wake up when my body wants to.

My mind is typically very active in the late evening until around midnight or 1 AM.  I often feel physically ill if I get up earlier than 7:30 or so, and I much prefer getting up at around 8 or 8:30.  I used to feel guilty for that and make myself get up earlier no matter what, but I found my mornings far less productive because I felt too out of whack physically.  I now try not to schedule anything before 9 or 10 so I can wake up, lay in bed gathering my thoughts for a bit, get some food and coffee, and write a blog post before the hustle and bustle begins.

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see ______ answer these same questions.

My good friend and colleague TK Coleman.  I’ve known him for over 15 years, and I still find his work and life habits a total mystery.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“If it doesn’t affect bowel movements or erections, don’t worry about it.”  True story.  A wise man actually gave me this advice once.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

If you’re not having fun (even if sometimes intense or stressful fun) you’re doing it wrong.

Two Weeks on Soylent

I just completed my two week Soylent experiment.  I loved it!

For the past 15 days I had Soylent for breakfast and lunch, with the exception of one day each weekend.  It was fast, easy, filling, and I felt great.  I often skimp or skip breakfast altogether, and lunch is either a barrage of snacks, a frozen burrito, or $12 spent on Pho.  The former are too time-consuming with little payoff in the way of pleasure, and the latter is too expensive to do every day.

Soylent provides a great alternative, and far better than just protein shakes or other supplements.  It doesn’t supplement a meal, it is a meal.  I found that within minutes of drinking a 500 calorie serving, I was full.  And it lasted.  I would be full for 3-4 hours and not even think of food.  For lunch I sometimes needed more like a 600 calorie serving to last longer than 3 hours.

Every other morning I’d pour a 2000 calorie packet into the pitcher they provided free with my order, half full of water.  Seal, shake vigorously, add a bit more water, shake again, pour a glass, and put in the fridge.  Each container would give me two breakfasts and two lunches.  Many people say they wait until it’s chilled to drink it, but I don’t mind it at room temp.

The taste is vaguely nutty and slightly vanilla, but mostly just inoffensive bland cream with some sandy grit.  My wife hated it, my son didn’t like it at first but then liked it, and I honestly enjoy it quite a bit.  I did add a splash of almond milk a few times, which has a natural sweetness.  That definitely made it better, but again, I don’t mind it as is and never got sick of it as I have some flavored protein shakes.

I found in general that I feel slightly better than normal when doing Soylent for both meals.  Nothing amazing, but to just consistently have a decent sized breakfast and lunch helped me feel more energy, and it definitely reduced distraction.  I especially like that it doesn’t get your hands (and hence you laptop, phone, etc.) greasy or get crumbs all over the desk or floor.  I typically eat in the office, so this dramatically improved that experience.

It also made me like dinner more.  You notice taste, smell, and texture more and enjoy them more fully when you save them for the really good stuff that you have time to experience.  Filling up on chips during the day makes taco salad for dinner less exciting, etc.  Soylent is so basic and utilitarian that it allows you to really enjoy the full meal experience when you have time for it.

A few small annoyances include the fact that the pitcher they sent doesn’t always seal, so sometimes when shaking it some would spurt out.  The design of the packets also make it a little hard to get all the powdered contents out with some missing the pitcher, but that’s very minor.  The fact that you can’t keep it in the fridge more than a few days after it’s been mixed is also annoying, but they sent a scoop to make single servings too, so again, a minor inconvenience.

I’d still like to see the price come down.  At around $3/meal it’s not bad, but more than breakfast and some lunches might come out to if you buy largish quantities of lunch meat or frozen meals.

Oh, one final word: if you do Soylent you need to make sure to drink lots of water.  I tend to drink at least 10 full glasses a day anyway, but if you don’t, you’ll want to or you’ll feel a little odd, especially after the first meal or two while you’re adjusting.  I also found that adding more than the recommended amount of water per serving to the mix was not helpful, as it just made the texture less enjoyable and increased the volume you needed to consume.

I wish they were on the shelves of the grocery store, which would make it easier to work in to the grocery rotation.  Still, I plan to keep a supply around and use them somewhat regularly for breakfast and lunch during the week.  It’s great to have a fallback that gets the job done so nicely.

Fasting from Good Stuff

I grew up in a religious tradition that valued the practice of fasting.  I’d fast from food for a day (or sometimes two or three) from time to time, and I always found the experience valuable.  Regardless of religious significance, fasting has a lot of benefits.  Fasting from food for a few days will teach you a lot about yourself.  You’ll learn how strong your will-power is.  You’ll find out that emotional outbursts and lack of self-control are closer to the surface than you thought once nutrients are lacking.  You’ll go through ups and downs, and during the ups you’ll think more clearly and deeply than ever.  Perhaps most of all, you’ll become ridiculously attuned to and aware of food and all its visual, conceptual, and olfactory beauty!

I haven’t fasted from food in several years.  But the practice of fasting more generally is something I’ve found to be very useful as a way to help optimize my outlook and performance.

Our family has adopted “Screenless Tuesday”.  This is not some kind of puritanical or anti-technology exercise.  We just decided to try it out for the heck of it, not because of any particular problem.  We love it.  Even the kids, who in a typical day can be found all around the house on Kindles, laptops, iPhones, and streaming video on the TV.  They love screens, yet we all really enjoy screenless Tuesday.  It provides an excuse to do things we enjoy – in my kids case drawing, playing games and Legos, etc. – but that take more effort to get into.  It also makes us appreciate screens more, and use them with more purpose (especially on Monday and Wednesday).

I typically pick a day each week to designate as social media blackout day, where I never open Twitter, Facebook, or the like.  Again, not because I think these amazing tools are negative, but because I think they’re wonderful.  It feels good to challenge myself, and going without them brings so much clarity and understanding about what makes them valuable.  So many of the things we do and tools we use are never considered in depth.  We talk trash about them because we’ve never really considered how valuable they are and in what ways.  Going without helps clear things up.  It also helps reveal the aspects that aren’t valuable and makes me a better user.

I occasionally fast from other things for a day, a week, a month or more.  Caffeine.  Alcohol.  Cigars.  In these cases it’s typically because I value these pleasures so much I don’t want to become dependent on them, or mindlessly consume them without enjoying it.  When I realize I’ve had a beer without really noticing it or enjoying it, it’s time to reset.  I love these consumables too much to down them without real pleasure.  A week or two without coffee makes that next cup a divine encounter.

Just knowing you can do something for a period of time is powerful.  You gain confidence, learn discipline, and become good at working hard and succeeding by doing it.  And small challenges that you can do teach you the thought and will patterns needed to do it with bigger things.  You feel a lot of pride by picking something to fast from (not for guilt or shame or fear or the approval of others or disdain for the thing, but just because) and doing it.

Kevin Kelly, founder of WIRED magazine talked about this in an episode of the Tim Ferris podcast I recently listened to, and I love what he said about it.  He talked about abstaining not because the things are bad, but because they are good.  That’s what makes it an effective practice.

Rules Make the Exceptions More Valuable

I shared recently several rules I have for myself that increase my productivity and happiness.  I was discussing these and other rules with my brother, and we both concluded that, despite the value of our rules, some of the most valuable times are actually when we break them.  This is especially the case with time-management and schedule rules.

I try to get 8 hours of sleep every night because I function better.  Yet some of the best flow states are induced when I’m up until the wee hours cranking away on a creativity binge fueled with caffeine.  If I did this often, I’d be terrible.  But it’s so valuable when employed as a rare exception.

This is one of the other benefits of rules.  Keeping to them gives you space to kick it up to “11” when you need it.  Try going without coffee for several weeks, then when you really need to dial-in have some.  You’ll find the boost from a single cup to be amazing in the clutch when you limit your intake on normal days.

Make rules if for no other reason than the value it adds to breaking them.

You Have to Pick Two

I wrote recently about how you can’t have a growing business, a robust social life, and a great family life all at once.  You only get to pick two.  The implication is that, though everyone wants all three, you get a maximum of two if you want to succeed.  I’m beginning to think the heuristic is not just a maximum, but a minimum as well.  You don’t just get to pick two, you have to pick two.

If you pour yourself fully in to any one of these at the expense of the others, you’re unlikely to find long term success and fulfillment.  If you’re a passionate, single-minded entrepreneur, you need to create space for some kind of social life or family/significant other.  You won’t be your best if you don’t.

Many people accept this notion but mistakenly assume all that’s needed is a balance of time spent on the activities.  As long as I carve out 30% of my time to not work I’ll be balanced because I’ll be with friends or family.  This is far from the truth.  You need time with an interest or hobby around which friends congregate, or family time, but you can’t expect it to happen simply because you set aside time to not work.  You have to be just as intentional with your non-work time as you are with time spent working.  You have to be definite and deliberate in the creation of a social or family life.

Again, it’s not about the number of hours spent on each.  Maybe you’re able to pour yourself into a job with only a four hour workweek.  Maybe you can have a meaningful social life with nothing more than one kite-boarding session a week.  The point is to ensure you have more than one thing on which to put your energy and attention.  One needs to serve as an outlet for things left unexpressed in the other.

I don’t believe it’s really about creating a stark divide or work/life balance either.  Depending on your personality and habits, you may need that in order to do your two things.  Or you may need a seamless synthesis.  I tend to have a much better family and work life when I have fuzzier lines between them.  I love working from home. I’m writing this at the breakfast table with noisy kids all around.  I like taking my kids with me on work trips when I can.  I enjoy responding to emails at all hours, and I feel less stressed and more in the moment with family when I don’t have to put work completely on hold.  You may be the opposite.  Neither is better or worse.  The important thing is to have something outside of work to devote yourself to.

The Trade-Off Between Productivity and Adaptability

When I got to the office this morning the WiFi was down.  It put a wrench in my whole day.  I had planned to write a blog post then jump right in to my task list.  Today was one of those productive days.  I could feel it.  But with no WiFi I couldn’t start in my preferred order.  I could do emails and several other things on my phone, but it’s much harder to write a blog post that way, so that had to wait.  I am now off my game, and struggling to get back on.

Some days I’m pretty adaptable.  If I know things are going to be unpredictable, I enter a flexible state of mind and can handle it well (when travelling, for instance).  But even though I handle it well, I’m far less productive when I’m highly adaptive.  I get back from a trip and I have a lot of catching up to do.  I have yet to find that zone where I can be highly productive and still easily roll with unexpected schedule shifts or curve-balls.

This apparent trade-off got me thinking about great sports teams.  Some of the greatest regular season teams are highly productive.  They have a plan, they are excellent at execution, and they deliver results week in, week out.  But many of those teams struggle mightily in the post season.  They face top defenses who have had longer to plan and throw out every trick in the bag.  They can upset the schedule.  Teams who operate far on the productivity side of the continuum suffer from lack of adaptability and can sometimes get blown out just by missing one or two early series.  I’m thinking of football especially.  How many Super Bowl winning teams have been the most consistently productive regular season teams, compared to the more tumultuous, creative, adaptive, and even streaky “big moment” teams?  Outside of Manning’s Colts, not many in my lifetime.

Where does this leave me?  I don’t really know.  I suspect the sweet spot is to find a way to dial in to productive mode for the regular season – the daily grind when travel and tumult are not the norm – and flip the switch to adaptive mode during the post season – the busy times and big moments where a lot is in the air.  I’m not sure how well one person or team can embody both styles of play and change between them on call.  I’ll have to think of some examples.  Still, I suspect that is where consistent greatness comes.  The kind that can win day in, day out, playing to strengths and rising to the big game with whatever’s needed.

Why I Love Voxer

I don’t spend a lot of time looking for or experimenting with new apps.  I assume I’ll eventually hear about anything that really helps me.  It takes a lot to change my systems of getting things done.  When a friend told me to download Voxer so we could connect easier than via phone or text, I was almost annoyed.  But I did it anyway.  It changed everything!

Voxer is a simple messaging tool that allows for audio, text, and images.  It’s much easier to use than the audio option native to the iPhone, and I find it incredibly natural to use it as the primary form of communication with friends and colleagues.  It combines the passive communication form of email and text – where you don’t need a coincidence of mutual availability like a phone call – with the personalization and ease of voice.  You can’t text while driving, and you don’t get to convey as much emotion and nuance.

The most valuable part is the ability to have threads with multiple people.  At Praxis, the team has two seperate Voxer threads that are ongoing.  One is for action items, and one is for big picture stuff.  We all travel a lot and are rarely together in one place, so when one of us has an idea we want to bounce around, we can have a conversation about it right away but still work around our schedules.  I’m a part of NBA and NFL threads with friends who are into sports where we debate what greatness is and trash-talk.  My kids use it to leave me messages when I’m travelling.  There is also a notes feature where you can leave notes to yourself, but without having to take up storage space on your local device like the native voice recorder app.

It’s hard to explain why Voxer adds so much value beyond the existing forms of communication, but I’m telling you if you and a few people with whom you regularly text, call, or email try it out, you’ll get it.  It’s amazing.