Smashing the Clock, and the Falling Dollar.

Smashing the clock” It’s nice to see that businesses are starting to see the benefits in morale, just by giving people more control over their time/mobility. True costs and measurements of productivity has to include employee retention, an non-subjective metrics on work performed. This also gets into, outside of the rapid communication needed for training, negotiation …ongoing management shouldn’t require communication more than a few times a day, as this fosters the continual forest fire.

The shrinking of domestic air travel, and the expansion of international. All the more reason if you are travelling, and can earn in Euros, to start thinking of exporting yourself or services, to take advantage of the increasing demand as the dollar weakens.

Here is an source linked to from a friend, that might be interesting if you are into currency trading.

Thought Templates #1

Since we are almost always thinking, thoughts and questions are like planets in orbit in our personal universe. They dissapear from view, and then pop up on repeating basis, and some impulses like the occasional meteor storm.     This happens whether or not those behaviors are getting us towards our goals or not.

In shifting behavior a useful technique for me is what I call a thought template, a recipe to begin approaching the world in a new way,  like medicine taken in doses whenever needed, or until they are automatic.  We see similar techniques like Mantras, Affirmation, with the key differences that:

  1. Thought templates require active participation.  Like leading questions, to fill in the blanks, be honest with the answers.  Being very specific to your own life as glittering generalities have no teeth.
  2. Rather than hand-me-downs, they are modelled after the statements and beliefs that people you want to emulate do/say.   Like I frequently create them after listening to a mentor in the act of presenting.
  3. Rather than applying to a higher powers, these rely upon self taking responsibility.
  4. They can branch and have decisions, as in the end each emotional state is a strategy to be applied in some cases and avoided in others.  Or can be applied in different intensities.
  5. They are reformulated over time, based on what works for you

A recent example is the axis of ‘taking for granted vrs appreciation/gratitude’.
What a thought template looks like for me is 1) a name and description, 2) a series of leading question, and commands.  Such as

On wakeup BetterThanCaffiene:

  • Smile big till it doesn’t hurt! Breathe 3 deep slow breaths.
  • Today I am [really!!] looking forward to ________ because_____ which will ____ [projected benefits]
  • [Timeframe] I’ve got some really amazing opportunities like ___________
  • I’m [very] excited about_______
  • I feel proud that [yesterday, last week] I ______[accomplished, had, avoided
  • I really appreciate that _______
  • I am [really] compassionate about _____.

Successfully running through a template, is a set of direction to get you into a target state, similar to that of an actor might use to get into a particular role, often via a trigger.  You will know that it’s working when you can compare before and after running it and feeling the intended change.

In performing it,  often each question is cycled through until the brain stops offering up more suggestions. e.g.

  •  Today I am looking forward to going in to the office because I haven’t seen Nick and Shelly
  •  Today I am really looking forward to getting the foam ordered for the reupholstery because that is the last piece required to complete and get us closer to the 2.0 anniversary party in May!.
  • Today I am  really looking forward to having fresh blueberries for breakfast…and ooh! hot showers…ooh and I can try that new soap.

Consider your emotional state like a table, serving as the foundation of achieving results in your life, and each leg of a table a piece of supporting evidence.  The more details you provide the stronger the table can be.   Also the intensity in which these are said/discovered counts, so generally I find typing/writing them out, or speaking them, makes it more ‘real’ than just saying them in my head.   Often like in the above example, once kickstarted more and more perceptions pop up, connecting to other things.  At the end of taking a dose, it should be easy to feel the shift.

Thought templates can be like movie scripts.  In that they contain what your character needs to believe, rather than something you generally already believe and practice…else you wouldn’t like need this in the first place!

Note that generally striving for higher purpose will get you to your goals quicker,  carrots work better than the stick.   But include other devaluing techniques  distracting from the important can be included.  These are generally in the form of

‘well___it’s just a….”,

EXAMPLE: Well…Horton Hears a Who is just a movie, and it’ can wait until past prime time, opening night, with packed theaters, it would be cheaper on a matinee and for the same price I could also get a crepe…

Like a pain releiver, these can be triggered by other states, or just like weightlifting performed regularly because  developing these states is a skill.   For myself like playing a video game, I find that practicing regularly, things both get easier, and I unlock “new levels” in myself.   Say developing compassion.  Compassion is a great competitive state to feeling judgemental/negative be it directed at the world or self – it’s impossible to feel both at the same time.  So when I notice I’m in the ‘dark side’ I open up a ThoughtTemplate I want and go through exercise.  Just like lifting weights, within a week I was feeling intensities far greater than I had, to the point it was even noticeable by others.

Try it let me know if it works for you!

Clever + Clever + Clever = Innovation.

Often ‘brilliant’ leaps of insight are directly supported by a few clever solutions, and beneath them piles of failed attempts.   This  is why keeping track of all the failures and brainstorming the possibilities is so critical to making those final leaps of ‘genius’.

A good example is those various wood and metal puzzles, designed to test intelligence, where the ‘right’ answer is the often the out of box one, and initially it seems impossible. ..but after you’ve done just once it seems obvious. Similarly those who pass the SAT with 1600, often the score has nothing to do with raw talent but rather just better preparation.

Of course wading through failure, isn’t fun.   So key steps in making those leaps for me is a)reframing the failure, b) iterating c) interrelating dissimilar ideas.

The ease of dealing with Failure is directly proportional to the strength of your bigger visions.  Example: Imagine you are kid, playing in the street, you fall and scrape your knee, if bored, you might bawl for a bit.   If it’s in the process of chasing after the ice-cream man about to go to the next neighborhood, and you’ve got a dollar in your pocket and the hunger, it bare registers.      The intensity of the goals you set for yourself follows a formula: Intensity = how many times it will benefit me near, and far, how much time will it save me vrs how much energy I’m spending and the opportunity costs.   As touted in the Secret, “you get what you ask for”  All those variables can be independently adjusted by focusing on which ones you want and not the ones you don’t…remember that thought is like a firehose spraying gasoline onto the fire, there is no way to quash the fire by pointing the hose at it.

Iterating is the moments where, innovation collapses taking the complex into the moment of elegance. It’s forced inefficiency that paradoxically leads to better things. I’m sure that many of you have experienced composing a long email to a friend over a sensitive matter only to have the response lost when the browser or machine crashes. Forced to recreate the response the second time you find how to say things with half the sentences and usually find some way to convey something that didn’t occur to you the first pass.

Interrelating and Percolating are the ideas that innovation can’t be forced. It like a good cup of tea or coffee take time to brew. Or that trick picture you can’t see clearly when looking directly at. By forcing yourself to look at something else your interested in, it gives your brain perspective that when looking back, and a new collection of seeds to try in the soil.

Allowing for percolation is particularly hard for me when I’m obsessed on some difficult problem, typically taking hours…but often just taking a walk around the block, focusing on the colors and breathing I come back and find *poof*a solution presents itself.

“creation as self expression dwarfs possession”

I really identify with that. It’s a quote, like one of the many excellently selected in the fourhourworkweek book someplace. It’s a good starting point for inspecting how does one define success in life?

While I’m a sucker for innovative design, and always invest in the best (frequently lustable) tools that amplify my creative capacity. Material possession has never really been that important to me. While not Conventional Rich status symbols,I’ve tried possession, a little: I have owned high end audio, high end PC’s, $200K projectors out of flight simulators, high end bicycles. I have designed jewelry and fashion, lived in nice places, minutes from the beach. All are cool, but in the end, they fade into the background of day to day life quickly.

Part of this has come from moving 26 times (I’m 33), initially due to military parents, and then later because it’s fun. I’m constantly having to evaluate if I really want to keep stuff, get rid of it. I have a Quality of Life calculation QOLC I’ll share in the future, I use to help evaluate both strategize purchases and what I get rid of. Repeated following it has made it easy to gain increased freedom while others my age have chosen paths to invest in houses or heavy businesses. Which is my biggest complaint about physical goods they are too often anchors and excuses not to move, often from unhappy life’s. Big brick and mortar businesses are big mouths to feed, that are always hungry. Just tonight I was talking with the CTO/friend and telling him about the upcoming month-long trip, and the concept of going away for several weeks was almost unfathomable to him.

Critical thinking also helps combat materialism as well, most of what is accepted as status symbols are just manufactured. by advertising, a game you can avoid, or take advantage of if you know the strategies. First up is limiting exposure to mass-media. Tivo it if you must. A simple example: Ever really wanted to see a movie? all the trailers, buzz, billboards but just never got around to it due to getting busy and then in six months staring at it on the movie shelf, you realize you’d rather do something else..ooh like that other movie coming out!

Very few things have lasting intrinsic value, almost anything can and has been manipulated (which of course people are paid to do), and pretty much everything in the future will be directly and quickly copyable. Technology changes pretty much everthing. Paper used to be handmade reserved for the rich, now it’s used for every bodily fluid for cents. Today Rapid prototyping means that any physical you can conceive of that can be modelled, can be made in hours, and in turn China can mass manufacturein days. 10-50 years from now Kinkos will copy or print out your sweater, china, radio just as easy as they do color printouts, molecule by molecule. Drop by a pawn shop sometime, take a look at the various rings on discount per carat then go to a new jewelry store and compare the difference. Now take a look at manufactured diamond costs. Autos are fun too. I get a smile everytime I watch the Arial Atom video, and geek out when I hear it’s available in electric. and like most electric cars built for performance cost 1/3-1/4 the status symbol. “Classic Cars” values have plummetted as the people interested in collecting them have largely been passing on.

Without material possession what’s left? This actually gets into filling the void, at some point once you’ve gotten freedom in your Time, $ and Mobility, you’re left with largely what emotions do you like? and how do you achieve them in a repeatable sustainable way?

Tim apparently likes thrill, which I can totally respect. I’ve tried thrill I can recommend it, but in small doses: I have done 100kilometer bicycle races, 50mph on a bicycle down windy gravelly edges roads…wearing nothing but cycling gear and 2″ of rubber contacting the asphault . I have driven F1 race cars 160mph, flown acrobatic gliders, flown in acrobatic aircraft, performed solo music in front of a hundred, open-mic with lots of tech gear with minimal setup/breakdown numerous times, conducted bands in front of 3000 people, put on art shows, given speeches for 300. Spun fire, Performed improv comedy, improv jazz, dixie land jazz. Helped put on a few conferences etc.

I have some friends that really get into gameplay, and unfortunately for myself, I just can’t get into them for more than 10 minutes. But to contrast,  one of the reasons I love programming as it’s the same puzzles but the rewards let me create easier and faster. For myself I really get into the high of creativity and flow. The joy of sitting with a pen and paper doodling , or in the music studio, or dancing with poi, or solving some creative problem solving is a physical manifestation of dreams.

At the end if you have a good memory, only so much truly novelty one can buy and retain. In a day there is can only eat so much, sleep in one place, listen to so many hours of music. So one has to find something beyond the immediate physical. For an innovator like myself, constantly seeing ways to make things better, there is only so much of the world that I can buy as good as my own vision for myself…thus it falls on ones own shoulders to fill the gaps, and it’s fun! and some of the best highs I’ve had. One of the reasons I keep many entrepreneurs and innovators and creative types, as close friends is we all see the world as playdough…malleable and negotiable, that others consider cast in stone.

MentalTools: The Time Corridor

To reach goals, often requires changing behavior. Behavior change is 1) being aware of the choices rather than being on autopilot, 2) and making better choices than the ones we make (often better framing and measuring the costs and benefits). 3) Usually giving up something along the way. Just as you can’t park a car in a full garage, you can’t move in your own life until there is space to move.

One of the visualization exercises that helps me make better decisions I call the Time Corridor. It’s a variation of Timelining projected forward and Timeline Therapy.

Claudia in a corridor

Like Claudia . Imagine being in one or those airport or funhouse parrallel mirror and getting the neverending images of you…or the back of your head.

Imagine that each reflection of you is a projection of who you are looking back at yourself at different points in time ahead of where you are right now. Say 1 minute, 10 minutes, 1 hr, 1day, 1 week, 1 month, 1year, 10 years. Take some decision in your life you are facing, ask the mirror choir one by one what they think looking back on you today. Strike up a conversation with those future yous to get to know them better.

Question: “Should I drink that soda?”

  • 10minute: Totally! I wanna pony too!
  • 1 day: which soda?
  • 1 year: what soda? no probably not, or at least maybe diet the diet version, at least I didn’t make a big impact on my life, but I do remember that concert we went t.
  • 10 years: You expect me to remember that crap? beside soda is evuhl

Everything counts in large amounts, and this is where you can gain leverage in your decisions. Okay, then measure the costs:

  • 10 minutes: 150 calories :$1
  • 1 day: 2 sodas 300 calories :$2
  • 1 week: 14 sodas, 2100 empty calories, $14, 2 days of caffeine jitters, 2 days of caffiene withdrawal headaches .
  • 1 year : 728 sodas, 109200 empty calories, $728, potentially 25 pounds of fat, $200o in dental work.

Then see what *else* you could do with the time and money if you opted not to do that.

  • 1 week: 14 cans of soda or one new dinner/movie out on the town every week.
  • 1 year: a downpayment on a new car, a computer, a month trip abroad?

Now put the costs and alternatives in one hand of each projection then ask ” which would you rather have?”.   Swallow the bullet and recognize that just as you probably don’t remember the sitcom or website you viewed last night, you won’t really dwell on the choice, and will be building discipline as a side benefit. This approach can be used for all sorts of questions: jobs, move, relationships.

It’s also useful for coping. There are no unreaslistic goals just unrealistic timeframes. At the moment it’s useful as I prepare for a month trip I have a large amount of commitments to wrap up, projecting forward a month I recognize that it’s all doable within that time period. That window of closure makes the sacrifices like not seeing my girlfriend, movies, dancing for 2 weeks worth it.

Btw, most 12 step programs and therapies are simply about graduated substitutions. Deep seated beaviors like addiction are impossible to wean without leverage, and thus suitable alternatives, and the process of creating them be fun. While I was hooked heavily on soda in high school (unlimited drinks for pizza delivery), one suitable replacement was making my own at home. Some simple variations are selzter water + 20 calories of agave + lemon + vanilla, all the fizz low calories and 100% natural. And home made ginger ale.

Just say no to (becoming) middle management.

New Rich friends don’t let New Rich desiring friends become middle managers ;) It’s nice to see that the new workforce are recognizing the true costs as well:

http://www.usatoday.com/money/workplace/2007-08-12-no-manage_N.htm?csp=34

Middle management is a vital aspect to most corporations existance, perhaps even as vital as food..which is less metaphorical than I’d like. Middle managers are the grist between the upper management + sales + marketing rock and the engineering + creative millstone. They are burdened with all the accountability, yet minimal control and knowledge. This is an unworkable situation as getting to the moon only armed with ducktape. The soul-crushing damage is easy to spot in startup companies as they grow, and in creative type agencies where projects lifecycles mimic corporations on fast forward. Looked at over time the company org chart looks like a stream, where the water near the edges is almost standing still, and the rapids churning out people in the middle. In some projects companies, I’ve seen them turnover through 3 project managers, and or completely burn out people in less than a year!  I realize that work environments can have predator/prey like aspects, but turning excited passionate people committed to making brilliant projects to stressed defensive working insane hours on salary is right up there with clubbing baby seals on my list of fun-time activities to watch or participate in.

To compound problems working is an addition easy to get hooked to, the unlimited hits of a full inbox saying “your important!”, they are so busy working they don’t have time to realize the true costs, until they stumble and gain perspective. Then pehaps they’d decide they’d rather bicycle across the world, and not come back.

The allure of better salary, importance and upgrades seem like glistening gold, but are all typically misleading. Salary at first blush seems a great deal, until they actually find out what the per hour rate is. $70K/70hrs a week is $20 pre-tax. Add in the hidden costs of premature aging, lack of sleep, phone calls, stress, lack of holidays, the true cost might be even in the negative ;)

Upgrade paths are also misleading, there are very few middle managers I’ve met who actually make it higher in the food chain (without jumping ship), or who are actually happier once they get there, this is especially true for engineers and creative types who love building things asked to build and create better people as a good manager should like doing first.

Pocketing the office, travelling for real, and virtualizing everything else…

Part of the fun about gaining independence is being able to mix travel and work and play in increasingly flexible proportions, who says you have to work from 9-5 at a specific address?   But with the good comes the law of entropy: Stuff breaks!  The more you move, the more things collide… get lost, broken or stolen.  The more you have the more stuff can go wrong.  If this happens to be your beloved ipod, smartphone, or laptop with all your data this can put a serious damper in your …month, or quarter if it all happens at once.  Thankfully, working in the information age we don’t have the same misery as if everything was lost in a fire, earthquake or flood, thanks to the ability of bits to be duplicated, and a global network of cheap data storage, and easy backup.

Synch Happens

This trend started for me about 2 years ago I had 3 PC’s (a notebook, a desktop and a tablet PC), about 7 harddrives, then I did a cost analysis and found that I was spending a fair amount of time just maintaining them (somehow upgrades are never simple as they seem), getting them all internet access, the endless software updates (not just windows), and a surprising one for me: a lionshare getting software to synch back and forth, remembering what has changed, what was on which drive on which machine etc. This is the hidden price of mobility: Synch happens. There are many tools for synchronizing files between machines, some even built into windows, all of them have significant overhead.

Since I do my own IT work I have been out looking for ways to reduce the time I spend maintaining my machines and reduce synching. The answer is pretty simple ruthlessly eliminate devices based on what you are using them for, and reevaluate the true costs of things. I had a desktop I was using as a file server and a movie watching and home automation. Almost all of these are barely used, the 3 machine gigabit network was cool but still was a synch. The movies I could just as easily watch from my laptop, in the end I really just wanted my data.

The desktop with 5 of the 7 drives, filling it’s tower and many cords inflated it’s importance. Since it was an organic growth I never bothered to reinvestigate it’s true worth,  though the cognitive one was easy to spot: 5 drives ranging from 120 to 400GB is a lot to manage! one was temp the other installs, backups of the notebook and laptop drives, the other projects the other 2 music, photo albums that eventually grew so large they couldn’t fit on just one. One one hand a 200GB drive seems like a lot of data, and at the time you bought it for say $200 it was.  But the constant drain of minutes trying to shuffle files to fit on mostly filled drives and remember where things are adds up quickly which if your hourly rate is even $15 adds up to it’s worth quickly….a NEW 200GB drive is about $45. Sadly you can’t just add new drives indefinately, you run out of room (new case $130) and the powersupply can’t handle it ($100-300).  Compare this to a  Hitachi 1TB External drive can be had for around $300 which in my case could fit ALL of the drives in one, and eliminate one PC and related upgrades in the process. It’s book sized small enough to fit easily into a bag…if one dared.

The ends goal for me is one laptop and one PDA/smartphone and something to draw on.  Since I realized a few years ago that laptops mobility outweigh the cost benefits of assembling a desktop I went to a laptop as my primary machine, and haven’t regretted the decision.  As a student in college saving $20-$200 dollars was a big deal and assembling a PC from scratch made sense.  Countless hours of beating against hardware incompatibilities has taught me other wise. Upgrade paths are never as great as they are cracked up to be, as you are battling Moore’s law. A Dual processor won’t be faster than a single processor 2-3 years later, and the various memory, harddrive, power interfaces shift enough that it may as well be a new machine. Opening the case up things start breaking.

So now I have an Dell Latitude I got off ebay for about $1K, the docking station ($40) which allows for a PCI expansion slot, in which I put a nvidia multimonitor card ($50) bringing it up to 4 20″ monitors…the set also cost about $1200 from TigerDirect.com Christmas of 2006. It’s pretty much the best of both worlds for me, portability and massive workspace when home. I have a few high end audio cards (that are also mobile). So I’m not really missing much.  If I played games I think that consoles and renting the cartridges are still probably the best way to go.

Go West Young Man

Since I have basically just this laptop,  I’m about to go on the road for a full month visiting Chicago and Hawaii with my girlfriend. I’ve been working on  reducing this single point of failure.   The 1TB drive has worked out well, and getting everything backed up to the web as I aim to take as little gear with me. Between Amazon’s S3 and globat.net’s cheap hosting it’s very easy to backup pretty much everything I ever have done digitally in multiple places, strongly encrypted, for well under $200 a year. Given the massive amount of digital photos, work, (around 900GB) I’ve done this is cheap insurance.

I’ve had the unfortunate ‘benefit’ of having a few harddrives and a laptop fail in the last few years, which thanks to backups  no important data was lost, but buying a new machine requires reinstalling everything, which allowed me to measure the time it takes to get back up to speed from ground zero.  Around  2 weeks! takes to get all the development tools utilities downloaded, licensesd and setup properly.  Backups generally don’t what you want as all the hardware has changed, and or the new machine has a faster bigger harddrive, it’s not as easy to just drop in and go.

 Virtualization
As such I’m starting to virtualize my machines, meaning running all applications in a virtual PC, which with processors including native virtualization commands is only 4% overhead from the normal machine in many cases. Compared to the week I spend getting setup, the inevitability of having something fail again, having the ability to backup is an easy sell. In some cases the same virtual machine images I’m working on will be the same I upload to Amazon to create highly scalable innovative web apps, or send to others to work on.

This is far different from traditional backups, as the VM image is platform independent, it can be run on Linux, OSX, XP, Vista on different hardware configurations as easily as moving a spreadhsheet file from machine to machine.  To boot almost any operating system can be virtualized, which is great for those of us doing cross platform development and testing.

The latest version of VMWare “ACE’ can run the virtual machine images directly off a thumbdrive, and Flash drives are big and cheap enough for most development needs I’m doing. So in my case if my machine were to die, get stolen or blowup in my travels I could get the complicated development environment running within minutes on any new machine/OS.   So it’s even possible to take all the entire machine with you in your pocket and leave the PC behind if you know your not going to work on the road and have access to a PC/Mac wherever you are going.

Smallest 2GB flash drive I’ve found
http://www.edgetechcorp.com/digital-media/sd-card-flash-drive.asp $60

Smallest 4GB flash drive (I’ve found)

http://www.sony.net/Products/Media/Microvault/usm-h.html

around $60   http://kaanza.com/Shopping/ProductDetail.asp?Productid=400337

or standard sized 4GB if you want an integrated  finger reader for $130

http://www.edgetechcorp.com/usb-flash-drives/biometric-flash-drive.asp

Smallest USB reciever on a notebook mouse.

http://www.everythingusb.com/logitech_vx_nano_notebook_mouse_13017.html

Also checkout the shrinking of the wireless reciever at the bottom:

http://www.logitech.com/index.cfm/mice_pointers/mice/devices/3271&cl=us,en

Coherence

Today I’m going to discuss , task list coherence, and internal coherence. Just as a drunk on a street can be babbling in a near foreign language, despite knowing enough english to ask for a dollar, task lists and thoughts too can be incoherent and in that state it’s about as effectual to achieving goals, as being drunk while driving. Coherence is also a type of light, lasers have coherent light, all the waves headed in the same direction, so that laser beam is still a spot even though being shown across a football field. A standard lightbulb on the other hand produces incoherent light that goes everywhere and bounces off everything. We are like that laser beam in that we can only do one thing well at a time, yet often instead of laser like focus on a particular problem we are diffuse and scattered trying to illuminate everything at once and not affecting anything. Tim Ferris has a great line “how would you do it, do it like your life depended on it”.

The real point of making lists

Lists, be it tasks goals or ideas, serve a few purposes, in the end the two most important is task coherence and internal coherence. Task coherence is the more common use, that the list and order of tasks is reflective of the work to be done, and ordered, prioritized and strategized so the velocity of achieving them is relatively smooth, be it putting on underwear before ones pants, or opting not to put on underwear if in a rush to get out the door . Internal coherence is that the same list of priorities and scheduling is held in ones head and accurately reflects the coherent task list, as ideally when out in the real world the subconscious is going to be looking for ways to make that list happen.

Take a grocery list for example: ice cream, bananas, tomatoes, milk, bread, pasta. A priority might be making sure the bread doesn’t get squashed, and ice cream doesn’t melt. Another priority might be making sure that we spend as little time in the store as possible so we can do other things, which leads to path optimization, so getting milk and ice cream when we are in the diary section and bananas and tomatoes in the fruit section, keeping it under 12 so we can get in the express checkout with one bag. This part of the path planning generally needs to happen before you get to the store, and if written down would be a well ordered coherent task list, with a decent memory or some memory tricks, you won’t need the shopping list at all. Contrast this with shopping with my Dad, having gotten a list from my stepmom, who assembled it out of 3 recipes for the eve, with quantities like “1/2 cup of flour”, or 2 eggs. and he generally goes sequentially through the list.. and it can take forever as we spend time criss crossing the store, converting into appropriate quantities, calling my stepmom for clarification (2% or skim?)

Task list/wikis that in particular exhaustive ones that cover ideas from first inception to final creation , or rapid idea storms become incoherent quickly. It’s entropy in action, and can be a full time job maintaining it (anybody who has worked with Microsoft Project is familar with this). However the real power is not in the list, or managing the list, but keeping the list in peoples head. Lists don’t do anything, they are just ideas, they need to be coupled with bodies that understand them to actually do useful work.

Keeping the list of ‘goals’ even if they are simple as shopping ingredients, is critical to smooth progression in goals. Just like in shopping, in searching for things on the list, sometimes you find things you need that never made it onto the list. Like that person in line who becomes your next business partner, after striking up a conversation on the kale salad you just bought. Or that half off Bailey’s for the upcoming holiday party.

Coherence via MindMapping with Pen and Paper

While task lists are useful, one of the best ways to build internal coherence is mind mapping/daisy chaining, this engages visual intelligence (which occupies much of our brain) on everyday problems and make connections in things that would be hidden when dealing with sequential outputs like voice recording and journalling. I’ve tried various mind mapping software, but I have always gone back to using free form paper. There is something about drawing that makes things solid. I usually do a second pass to Shadow Plan for things that need to be tracked that way.

Today I bought 2 paper black bound binders, some highlighters and 2 ballpoint pens, as I’ve filled one binder, used up my highlighters. At first, this completely goes against my ‘go digital’ paperless philosophy, especially since I do own a TabletPC which has several good drawing programs. However I’ve found that the size of surface allows me to connect more dots, a pen I have higher control to detail, and in the end this is more important. Highlighters are great at making some concepts that would be impossible to convey via shading or crosshatching. Keeping the binder to 9×11 and making sure I don’t put to fine of detail means it’s easy to take a digital picture and then rework it when/if that need arises. Frequently it doesn’t.

Just like drawing pictures, I’ve also found that there are 2 modes to approaching it. Sketching without regard to making it pretty or coherent is the way to start, as it’s arrogance unless you have a perfect vision to start with bold solid strokes and expecting them to come out. To reinforce this, I also use black ink so there isn’t the temptation to erase and rework. It amazes me when I do this, despite my ability to draw reasonably clearly, how near illegible my writing becomes, yet the energy conveyed in the strokes, but it doesn’t matter, I find even if I can barely read the writing I know what I meant (though it will be indecipherable to anybody looking over my shoulder). The act of getting it out onto paper, is like creating ripples that like zen like strokes, form ridges in the sand. After a bit and the thought stream dies down, I do a second pass I start with a new sheet and take my time, making it more ordered, and decorating it with more details, this often brings clarity and additional revelations. Overall it doesn’t really take that much time.

Then next day, or if it’s a new subject, or behavioral change a few hours later, I start from a blank page again! A binder with just these drawings is a great way to journal ones progress.

The Morning and Evening Coherence Exercise

Internal coherence means that we KNOW the subject AND the connections/order. This is tricky, everything on that page/list is in our head somewhere, but like that phone number for that first boy/girlfriend sometimes it’s in there but not immediately accessible when we need it, when we are out in the world. In the background while we work, sleep, our subconscious is constantly working out solutions to problems from everything to that shopping list to what we want to eat, and who we want to be in a year. Especially on new problems, tasks, and worse on novel ones like new ideas, or new behaviors, it’s very easy to forget. Especially in ideas, if it were common then it would already be done! So the act of starting from a new blank page is a way to see how much you remember. That you check against the previous page as the ‘answer key’.

For this phase/exercise often I use a combination of LiveJournal and MindMapping. I will start out with a blank page, give myself 5-15 minutes and tell myself to start typing/writing with no regards to order. Sometimes I will seed the thoughstream with nodes like

  • self
  • work
  • finances
  • love
  • friends
  • family
  • health
  • questions
  • todo

asking leading questions as what I’m thinking about in each of those categories, at the end I will check it against the previous entry. And in the case of daily todos mark it done or put a note as to what happened with it.

As a separate exercise (which Peter Drucker recommends) , it’s useful to do something similar to predict ahead what you think you will get done in a day, week, month, year, and then tag it, then after that time period has passed review. Spend some time figuring out what went right, what got you, and why etc.

Commute Killer

Tim Ferris among others advocate batching tasks to improve efficiency, as a large amount of time is spent ‘shifting gears’. Sometimes literally, like the countless shifts between 1 and 2nd gear going back and forth to the office. People often fail to include the amount of time, wear and tear on the car and sanity into the allure of a high paying job, and how that high paying job once calculated hourly might not be better off than a fast food worker.

My Example (back in 2000):

  • 100K startup job in Sunnyvale, frequent meetings and late nightss
  • Lived in Pacifica because Sunnyvale was boring.
  • Girlfriend in Oakland only place she could afford a house.

Which if your familiar with Bay Area traffic forms a bermuda triangle of
life suckage. What would be 20 minutes on a good day could turn into 4 hours of red lights. The draining aspect is it’s unpredictability, you can never tell, which makes planning on getting to work on time difficult (should I get up at 4am or 6 am?)

Measuring the pain

I got out my trusty stopwatch (if you can’t measure you can’t manage) and averaged times
over a few weeks. I was spending 20hrs in commute (commuting is a shitty
part time job!) and 45-65 hrs at work, sometimes 6 days a week. Which when averaged into the ‘high’ income calculated hourly rate between UPS delivery boy and McDonald’s Chef, and I’m sure
the UPS guy was in better shape. Needless to say I was quite astounded finishing the calculation.

On Friday’s I would go visit my girlfriend and get so frazzled from the commute, that when faced with another commute into the city to go ‘out’, coupled with 20-45 minutes finding parking (sometimes coupled with stresses of showtimes), any enjoyment to be had was quickly offset by the road-rage and unknowns, this frequently took it’s toll on the relationship in the form of arguments.

Getting to a Zero Commute

So ever since then I’ve never lived more than 30 minutes away from work, either structuring where I live, or where/how I work, here’s the steps I followed.

  1. Negotiated (both work and girlfriend) for flex time, avoiding traffic.
    Savings of 5-7 hours a week.
  2. Second was switching to 4 day in office, 1 day telecommuting, showing
    productivity enhancements.
  3. 3rd was going to 3 day 10 hour days (keeping an eye out for how to go
    independent), networking and building credibility: started presenting at user meetings, conferences, tech edited books
  4. having enough in savings and enough contacts I could go without stress
    solo.

Interestingly since going solo, my hourly rate in the last year has gone from 1.5 to 4 times
what I was making working for others. The projects (I develop in flash) are smoother as there are less people in the pipeline and less that can go wrong. My commute can be zero if I choose, yet I can travel way more. Right now my girlfriend and I are planning a full month trip to Chicago and Hawaii.

This is not to say that one has to work out of ones home,. Increasingly I’m entirely laptop based so I can work while visiting/travelling a higher percentage of the time, etc. While Cafe’s are obvious, there are lots of other avenues. Some highlights of my work:

  • in a quiet sunny grassy/tree park that connects to the cities free wireless,
  • a free concert at the city of Pasadena that I wouldn’t have paid that much attention to just watching.
  • at the Getty museum on the lawn.

It’s easy to make a goal of eating at one new place and seeing one new street. I was amazed at how little I knew the area around me. I might spend now 45 minutes a day commuting, but this is zero-stress walking and sightseeing, and at least in a decent city it’s amazing how much is accessible via foot and bus distance.

Addiction to Cars

The Killer Commute and addiction to cars, is also really sad, it reminds me of the invisible efficiency epidemic mentioned in the 4hourworkweek.com. While confused initially, I now know why people put ‘home theaters’ (and refrigerators, beds, alarm clocks, garages for mopeds etc) in cars, people are increasingly living in them. The costs of financing a car aside, the amount of man hours that are spent sitting in a car not adding to anybodies quality of life is staggering (I know because I tended to start doing calculations when I’m stuck). Staggering as in the same number of hours
could have built the Panama canal…several times over, or sent somebody to the moon. The hidden causalities in relationships, jobs, due to the stress has never been measured, but I’m sure it’s high. It’s hard to be present for the
nice dinner/evening in front of you when your already stressed out about the morning commute and the important meeting.

Make sure your car commutes you to your goals

I have a super cheap econo car, that’s paid for, I don’t spend time on it, if it get’s totaled it’s easy to replace. I don’t wash it very often, as gets as my goal in life is to drive as little as possible. I don’t associate my identity with it. I structure my life that I can get most of what I need by walking. To confound things, I live in LA and my girlfriend lives in SD, so here I batch our time together so we always spend a few days together of high quality time, and given my flexibilty I can visit for a few days if so desired.

I have friends with $600/monthly leases that Love their car, like people Love their abusive jobs/relationships, while I respect their decision, it saddens me when the car +house payment are the anchors keeping them from pursuing their passions. Despite being a geek with a love of high tech, hybrids and new cars fail to be cost effective. I have friends with 2 year old vehicles that spend more time in the shop on scheduled maintenance, than my car is worth. It was really simple for me, which would I rather have $300-$500 a month for a car or the same towards developing muses? Which will I get more enjoyment and mileage out of in 2 years from now?

Zero Commute..yet Travel 500% more

The amount I save not paying interest or insurance can be used for other things. That said I love flying when I travel, and $400 I’m not spending on a car is easily a flights a month (perhaps more if your using the Platinum AMEX card). Renting car and a hostel together can be $50/day in the US.

Another example: A few years ago, a good friend and I wanted to drive from Vegas to Marin, up the beautiful California coastal highway for a friends wedding, so we rented a convertable Mustang for a 7 days and came back through Yosemite. It was a blast! Cost $240 + $140 in gas, split 2 ways All the experiences, none of the maintenance or interest. The car we rented had a dragging brake caliper, which I’m sure cost at least what we spent that week to fix.