For anyone who doesn’t already know, allow me to be abundantly clear: I’ve been blessed with an amazing pint-sized human being in my life, my right-on-the-brink-of-teen daughter. I’ve been particularly impressed with her mastery—and brevity!—with words, so, over the last decade, I’ve kept a list of some of the more remarkable things she’s said.
There were the cute ones, like when she asked me to take her to “Old McDonalds,” make her a “pasagna,” or do her a “flavor” and locate the missing “hummus stone” from the shower. Or that time she quipped, “It smells like a bad word in here.”
But it wasn’t all silly, not by a long shot. Even at the tender age of four or five, she was already doling out sage advice, in one case about the passage of time. Everything in the past, in her understanding, was simply “yesterday.” The future was “when we’re all dead” and the only two points in time that mattered to her were “right now” and “right now, right now,” if she needed to convey an increased sense of urgency.
Would that we all appreciated living in the moment the way her young mind once did!
Her observations on technology were also fascinating beyond compare, quite literally—since I never had access to anything as advanced as a child. When a geographically-distant relative called on FaceTime: “Thanks for coming all the way across the Internet to see us!”
Perhaps as a result of all this technology, she developed the uncanny ability to build mental models of how things work—and to draw correct, insightful parallels between complicated, invisible things. Her experience in baking led to an encounter during my dental checkup. After explaining how tartar grows into plaque, my hygienist was blown away when she said, “Right, just like yeast.”
Her one-line reviews of movies and music have always been entertaining, too. Thriller? “Overdone.” AC/DC’s Back in Black? “Intense.” Dark Side of the Moon? “The songs really get stuck in your head.” Bat Out of Hell? “Funny.” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off? “Well they sure went to a lot of trouble just to skip school for a day.” Dirty Dancing? “Yay, a shirt.”
As she moved into her second decade of life, the youthful innocence of her commentary gave way to a more pointed, deliberate delivery of good-natured but still piercingly-funny sarcasm, certainly influenced by the full-frontal assault of music, movies, TV, and other media to which we are all constantly subjected. “Wednesday is the new Saturday,” she remarked after I took her swing dancing on a school night.
And on another fog-swamped drive from Marin County into San Francisco, “It’s such a beautiful day, but where did the bridge go, Daddy?”
From toddler to teen, this kid developed and honed her wit. I always listen for and appreciate her unique—and often profound—insights, both verbally and in the written word.
“Money can’t buy love or happiness,” I once told her, only to be outdone by her reply: “Yeah, but it can buy freedom.”
One day, this bird will likely find that freedom and leave the nest.
Until then, my duty as a father is to encourage her to find and exercise what freedoms she has while still a minor, starting with something she’s already mastered: the freedom to express herself, and to do so eloquently and beautifully.
I’ll be listening intently. Because I know this young woman has a lot more to say.
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” —Nelson Mandela
We all have tasks that—for whatever reason—we just don’t want to do.
They might be as mundane as organizing the garage or as grandiose as building the next Facebook. Small or large, easy or complex, self-rewarding or based on the obligations to others; regardless of what needs doing, I noticed something recently that consistently helps me break through cycles of procrastination and stay focused on the tasks that matter.
My “ah-ha” moment of introspection about procrastination came when a coworker said, “I’m addicted to working on this project.”
I didn’t doubt that he was telling the truth. People have been addicted to far stranger things than software projects. But the remark made me wonder: Can I improve my productivity by channelling my inner addict?
The answer was a resounding yes. I use and re-use “addiction training” (for lack of a better term) any time I find myself resisting some task that I don’t want to perform.
In order to understand why this works for me—and may also work for you—we need to understand how someone becomes addicted. The word addiction carries with it some serious baggage. Everyone knows how dependence on hard drugs or alcohol can lead to financial and emotional ruin, the destruction of relationships and sometimes even death.
Most people also know that addiction is not a character flaw; rather a person’s brain chemistry changes related to how “rewards” get processed. A shallow dive into neurology explains the chemical nature of addiction, beginning with the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain associated with logic and decision-making. At first, we consciously set “goals” of getting drunk or high (or working out or having sex) because those things feel good. After a relatively short period of time—with some drugs, just a few doses or with “good” habits, some say 21 days—the motivation to continue the nascent behavior moves from a logical, conscious place to a more Pavlovian one. A new part of the brain takes over: the anterior dorsolateral striatum, wherein we process rewards-based learning.
“In rats seeking cocaine, additional evidence supports the hypothesis that seeking behavior is initially goal-directed, but after extended training becomes habitual and under the control of the anterior dorsolateral striatum (aDLS).” [source]
Once the aDLS has taken over, addicts will feed their addiction at all costs, even if they can knowingly reason that “smoking is unhealthy” or “alcohol is ruining my life.” It’s literally beyond their logical control.
The chemistry of addictive drugs, stimulants in particular, facilitates the transition of using drugs from “goal-based” to “habitual.” But how does this apply to my software project—or cleaning my garage?
Here’s what I do when I find myself procrastinating:
Set up an extremely small reward challenge (to trigger the aDLS), e.g. “I’m going to install RVM/ruby and create my Rails project, then I’m going to have a bowl of ice cream.”
Do the extremely small task. (Okay, that was easy and it took less than five minutes.)
Eat the ice cream. (That felt good.)
Go back to procrastinating.
By associating the smallest level of effort with a reward, we can begin to trigger the reward processing module of our brain, effectively feeding our nascent addiction. (Bonus points for substituting “eat a bowl of ice cream” with “go for run” or some other healthy habit.) After repeating these steps several times, you’ll likely find yourself autonomously attracted to the work you logically don’t want to do. There’s a lesson to agile product owners here too: Stories reduced to the smallest atomic parts can give developers little “slam dunks” wherein the reward is baked into the process of moving the story along the agile board.
It’s important not to create additional negative addictions during this process—and equally important to keep the aDLS on its “toes.” Give yourself a huge reward for doing very little. Then give yourself a small reward for doing something huge. Sometimes, give no reward. Or flip a coin and if it’s heads, eat the ice cream; tails: Go back to work! This “random” nature of the rewards helps cement the working addiction using ideas from something (anecdotally) more addictive than cocaine: gambling.
This method for training an addiction might work better for some than others. One study claimed that 47% of the population carried a genetic marker for addiction. Even so, we all have an aDLS and we can all learn to train it to our advantage.
Having trouble exploiting your addictive tendencies to become more productive? What other techniques have you tried when you need to break out of a procrastination rut?
This morning I rolled out Tink, a simple interactive chatbot I wrote for my wife as a gift for Valentine’s Day.
Every few days, Tink will text my sweetie a randomly-selected yes-or-no question from a list of questions I wrote, e.g. Would you like to take hip-hop classes? At different random times, it will also text me random questions from the same list. When we both reply “Y” to the same question, it will notify us of that happy coincidence and suggest that we, say, finally enroll in those hip-hop classes.
Basically it’s Tinder, but for couples. But not in the way you’re thinking (you dirty dawg).
Instead it’s a fun way for two romantic partners (or just friends?) to discover shared interests they didn’t know they had. I suspect Tink will also become a motivator to actually do the things it suggests. (We’ve been meaning to sign up for hip-hop classes for months, but haven’t yet.)
The questions I wrote for Tink’s inaugural run mostly revolve around ideas for fun dates, outdoor activities, new restaurants we want to try, etc. However, there’s no reason why Tink questions couldn’t cover religion, politics, sex—or even topics actually fit for the dinner table.
With G-rated questions, Tink could serve families or even small friend groups, but right now it’s only a bicycle built for two.
Wanna take a peek under the hood? I made Tink opensource under the MIT license.
It’s especially hard when so many delightful years of swing outs, lindy circles and sugar pushes suddenly come to a screeching halt like they did last night, when Le Colonial ended its ten-year, four-night-a-week run of free live lindyhop, balboa and swing music.
My wife — whom I met 16 years ago this Saturday (you guessed it) lindyhopping — and I have been going steadily to this lovely venue 2–3 times a month since 2011, usually on Wednesday nights. There we’ve cultivated scores of friendships with dancers from age 9 (our daughter, who often accompanied us) to age 85 (Bernie Schindler, an amazing human being who deserves his own blog post, if not a whole book). We’ve celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, engagements; we’ve loved and we’ve lost; and we’ve mourned those who’ve traded in their wingtips for wings.
In light of this news, there’s been significant chatter in the local dance community — both online and off — about why it happened. While it’s easy to point fingers at the management, it’s important for us to consider that there’s more than one side to this (and any) story.
To properly frame this discussion, first I need to offend every lindyhopper on the planet by stereotyping all of us into two broadly generalized groups:
1. People who dance for sport, wear snap pants and headbands, carry towels and water bottles and generally view dance as (fun) exercise
2. People who dance for the scene, wear vintage clothes, drink alcohol and generally view dance as fun per se, but also as a means of socializing
Of course, it’s a spectrum, not a binary system. In fact, I put myself squarely in both groups. There’s a time and a place for both, for me. Everyone’s different.
Back to Le Colonial. They had the beautiful problem of attracting both kinds of dancers (and everything in between). Just as it would be strange if I showed up at Lindy in the Park on Sunday morning in a three piece zoot suit, vintage tie and spectators, it would be just as weird to bring my gym bag, wear shorts, change shoes tableside and eat my own food and drink out of my own water bottle at Le Colonial.
When all is said and done, both groups of dancers bear some responsibility for Le Colonial’s decision because we didn’t spend enough money on food or drink to justify the ruckus we made (often generating complaints from dinner guests and unwelcome visits from management). Far too many of us dressed like schlubs, carried in way too much luggage and were rude to the staff. Add to that the constant game of musical chairs that happens between songs, which drives the servers — who routinely also get kicked, body checked and stomped on — straight up the wall.
Despite all these problems, live music could one day return to Le Colonial. For it to work, however, the restaurant needs to stop trying to be a restaurant and a lounge and a bar and a dance hall all at the same time. They would need to block off the main staircase leading up to the lounge and turn the whole thing into a proper music venue. Then, they would need to convert the Sutter entrance into box office and — gasp! — sell tickets. Remember, the musicians we love — and who love us back — need to pay the rent, buy food and keep the lights on. With a $10 or $20 cover, there wouldn’t be so much of a need for dancers to buy food and drink. For Le Colonial and the band, food and drink purchases would be gravy, with the meat and potatoes coming from the cover charge.
Bottom line: we dancers — in either camp — out of respect for the venues and the musicians, need to follow the “When in Rome” principle, saving the shorts and All-Stars for the 9:20 Special and trying to look our best when dancing at classier places like Le Colonial. More importantly, we need to be wiling to put our money where our collective mouths and happy feet are.
Because you get what you pay for. Conversely, you don’t get what you don’t pay for.
We didn’t pay for the world class music we enjoyed for years.
This article original appeared as a guest post on Scott Abel’s blog, The Content Wrangler.
Lately I’ve been really overwhelmed by my email inbox. This is not a new problem, but in the past I’ve been able to keep it at under a hundred emails; recently it has grown to nearly 300 and it has really begun to interfere with my getting things done.
So, last night, I took a good, hard look at what was really IN my inbox.
About 40% of the notes consisted of links sent to me by well-meaning people who thought I should check them out for various reasons. Another 30% were suggestions on how to make our products, marketing materials, services, etc. better from employees, customers, partners and other well-meaning people. Of the remaining 30%, about half were personal introductions to potential partners, customers, investors or other people with whom the authors thought I would want to connect. The other half were ‘to-do’ items of a business or personal nature, some sent by me to myself (ick!) or by other people.
I think maybe one or two messages actually consisted of correspondence — by that I mean something like the letters of yesteryear that we used to send through snail mail. It’s interesting to see how the bastardized email of today is so different from the purpose for which it was invented, but that’s the subject of a whole other article. However, while I’m digressing, it’s worth noting that
email functions brilliantly as a “better matchbox” than snail mail, but at the same time it performs really poorly at all the other functions that it’s used for today.
The goal for me was to put all these messages that shouldn’t remain as emails into their proper home so I could deal with them appropriately while maintaining my sanity.
Now that I had performed some analytics, it was time to get organized! Here are the tools I used to clean up the mess: Basecamp, Highrise and Instapaper. Instapaper is free; however the 37signals products Basecamp and Highrise carry a small monthly fee.
[Note: They also have trial versions, but don’t expect to get too far with them since 37signals made the free versions just useful enough to show you their value without actually providing any.]
Getting from almost 300 emails to under 20 took about two hours and it was time well spent. I made one pass through my bloated inbox and took one of these actions, based on the type of email:
Email Type #1: “Hey, you should check out this link because. . . .”
Opened the link and used the “Read Later” bookmarklet from Instapaper to save the link for when I have to time to read it. If the email containing the link had something interesting in it (besides the link), I copied that into the notes field for that link once I had saved it to Instapaper. If you care to share what you’re reading/bookmarking, you can also use a del.icio.us bookmarklet for this. I find Instapaper easier though, because you can bookmark a link with one click. Del.icio.us forces you to enter tags and other metadata, which increases friction and slows down the process of bookmarking.
Bottom line: Bookmarking, per se, is a simple, rote task that shouldn’t take more than one click to accomplish.
Email Type #2: “Hey, you should make your product better by doing this. . . .”
Read the email. If there were specific action items associated with it, I created to-dos in Basecamp (under the project for the appropriate product) so that we can address them in a future release. We maintain a to-do list for each release of each product and another to-do list that serves as a backlog for each product. (Some agile tools refer to this as “the icebox.”) When we’re planning a release, we pop the most important things out of the backlog and move them into the current release to-do list.
If the to-dos were general, more thematic suggestions without specific action items associated with them, I copied the suggestions to one of our design writeboards in Basecamp. Then I responded to the email thanking them for the feedback and deleted it.
Bottom line: Product feedback and support tickets belong in Basecamp or a support ticketing system … or even a CRM, but they should never be kept in email as email is not the right tool for tracking the support ticket cycle.
Email Type #3: “Hey, you should sell to (or partner with) so-and-so. . . ”
Forward the email to Highrise’s email dropbox. Delete. Done. When I process my Highrise queue of messages, I can decide whether or not to pursue these leads on a case-by-case basis. Sales leads belong in your CRM system so that they can be tracked and managed. Email is the wrong tool for tracking the sales cycle. If you want to close sales deals and you’re using email as your CRM system, important communiqués are going to slip through the cracks and you’re going to lose business as a result.
Bottom line: E = mc2 but Email != CRM. Email Type #4: “Hey, Chris, meet so-and-so. Hey, so-and-so, meet Chris”
Reply All and start the process of scheduling a good time to talk. However, there’s a bit of a hole in this, because if I then delete the message, how do I ensure that so-and-so and I actually end up talking/meeting? If you have any suggestions about how you’ve solved this problem and what tools you’ve used (besides stinkin’ email), please let me know in the comments field associated with this blog post. I guess I could use our CRM for this, but that’s kind of like using a bazooka to kill flies.
Bottom line: I don’t know what the best tool for this is, but I do know that it’s most definitely not email.
Email Type #5: To-do item (not related to a product or a lead)
Put in on my to-do list. Right now, somewhat ironically, this is an email that I keep perpetually in draft status. To-do lists are a funny thing. I’ve used Remember the Milk, Google Spreadsheets/Documents and a number of other tools, but frankly, nothing beats a text file. By keeping it as a draft email in Gmail, I always have access to it from anywhere, buy you can easily accomplish this with Google Docs too, or a number of other tools.
Bottom line: Your inbox should not be your to-do list. Use a text document, a to-do management tool or even a piece of paper and a pen. There’s something inherently gratifying about the physical, visceral action of scratching something off my to-do list with a big, fat marker (preferably a Sharpie). No tool I have encountered can come close to emulating that feeling of accomplishment.
Email Type #6: Personal Correspondence
Print it on nice paper, frame it and hang it on the wall! Seriously, these have gotten so rare, that I really don’t mind them at all.
Bottom line: This is what email was designed to do, so feel free to use it for that. Enjoy it, because your friends would probably rather update their Facebook status than send you an email. If they do send you emails (and there’s no to-do/action-item associated with them), then they’re a true friend. You should return the favor with a personal email of your own, or, if you really want to surprise them, drop a handwritten note to them in the postal mail, preferably with a designer stamp that reflects your sense of style.
There’s something really sexy about being retrosexual — try it, I guarantee you’ll get great results!
Conclusion: I didn’t quite reach Inbox Zero before my head hit the keyboard, but I am down to under 20 emails in my Inbox. Every time I hit “delete” I could feel my stress level, my blood pressure and my state of disorganization decreasing proportionately.
So, how many messages are in your inbox? What do you think of my approach? What tools and strategies do you use to manage all this email insanity? I’d love to hear your comments. Just don’t email them to me!
I’ve never really understood the phrase, “You are what you eat.” If it were true, I’d probably be an In-N-Out burger (double double animal style) or something far worse for you and/or better tasting.
Recently, I overheard someone on Twitter saying something to the effect of:
“You are the sum of the five people you hang out with the most.”
My immediate reaction was to disagree vehemently. I’m totally not like that! I’m exactly who I want to be! I don’t subject myself to the influence of others like that! Etc.
Not only am I completely wrong about this, but it may be that — in some strange cosmic way — I’m actually the sum of ALL the people around me, good, bad and everything else under the sun.
Today I discovered TwitterSheep. (No, this has nothing to do with sheep, fraternity rituals or anything else of a sexual nature, I assure you.) TwitterSheep simply looks at your followers and constructs a tag cloud based on keywords in their bios. That’s not really remarkable, but what is remarkable is that when I ran my Twitter account through the application, the resulting tag cloud literally read like my own bio. Seriously. It’s a visual representation of terms that — when you sum them all together — equal me. The largest words are what I do and care about most.
Am I right about this? Are you the sum of your followers?
I wouldn’t consider myself a Radiohead fan. But what they just did is about to turn the music industry on its head . . . again. Check out this snippet from an e-mail they just sent me:
To coincide with asking radio stations to think about playing Reckoner we are breaking up the tune into pieces for you to remix. After the insane response we got from the Nude remix stems and the site that was dedicated to your remixes…
Unique visitors: 6,193,776, Page Views: 29,090,134, Hits: 58,340,512, Bandwidth: 10.666 Terabytes, Number of mixes: 2,252, Number of votes: 461,090, Number of track listens: 1,745,304
…we thought it only fair to do the same with a tune that at least is in 4/4. You can get the stems (the different instruments/elements) from here.
Sample, cut, take the sounds, whatever. Play it in a club. Or your room. Then if you want you can upload your finished mixes to http://www.radioheadremix.com and be judged by everyone else. You can create a widget allowing votes from your own site, Facebook or MySpace to be sent through too. [Emphasis mine.] To start things off we asked James Holden and Diplo to do their versions.
Whatever you want to call this (user-generated production?), it’s downright brilliant. The idea that I — a mere mortal — get to mix and produce the next Radiohead song and that my version (if the general public likes it) could be the next big Radiohead hit is simply a mind-blowing and totally game-changing idea. Starting with Napster, then Kazaa and other P2P networks, then the idea that a major-label artist like Radiohead would put up an album (In Rainbows) and ask people to name a price for it — including $0 — the music industry has changed dramatically over the past ten years. And Radiohead is, as usual, leading the charge.
huuuze: @bucchere Get real. I’m only friends with Christians and Django users. 😉
* * *
So the time it took me to compile this discussion made me wonder why Twitter doesn’t have threaded discussions. Summize (now search.twitter.com) has “conversations” but, like Facebook’s wall-to-wall feature, just because the posts occur consecutively, it doesn’t mean that they’re actually “in” the same thread. If I were re-writing Twitter, adding threaded discussions — and with it, the ability to reply to a specific Tweet — would be near the top of my list.
Happy Friday everyone (and happy 3-day weekend for hard-working and hard-twittering Americans)!
I used to love Feedheads. It’s a simple, elegant and beautiful application that does one thing really well: help you share your Google reader shared items.
Unfortunately, the “new” Facebook has rendered the application utterly useless and I can’t think of a good way, as an end-user, to fix it. In fact, as someone who’s built two facebookapps, I can’t even think of a way that the Feedheads developers can fix it. What a calamity.
So here’s the problem: the News Feed (and the Mini Feed) introduced an option that allows end-users to set the story “size.” When a Google shared item story comes through Feedheads now, it defaults to the “one line” size and as a result, it doesn’t say anything other than “Chris posted an item to Feedheads.”
Thank you very much, Facebook. That piece of information is completely useless. People who are reading your feed need to click through into the Feedheads application in order to see what story you posted — and the whole point of Feedheads is to help you share your shared items, not make them harder to find.
(As a result of all this, Facebook also broke one of my applications, called WhyI. It has < 200 users, so very few people care, but . . . the point of the app was to help people ask themselves and their friends questions that have to be answered in five words or fewer. And of course, the questions and answers would show up in the Mini Feed and News Feed. But not anymore! Now it just says: “Chris posted a new mini-update using WhyI.” Again, a totally useless piece of information. Drats.)
As an end-user, I can set the “size” of each feed item. So that means, after I hit Shift-S in Google Reader — which doesn’t take much effort — I have to wait for the story to be published in Facebook and then, if I remember (which at this point is unlikely), I have to go into that little drop down on the right and set the size to “small” instead of the default, which is “one line.” And here’s the best part: I can’t tell Facebook to remember this, so I have to do it every time.
All this just to share a shared item on Google Reader through Feedheads . . . ick.
Here’s the best part. I just noticed that Facebook added their own feature to the new and “improved” news feed. You can import your shared items from Google Reader! And, not surprisingly, the news feed actually shows the stories’ titles. In other words, Facebook took a great application — Feedheads — and replaced the functionality with their own feature; in the process, they rendered Feedheads useless.
Boy do I love the fact that no one reads this blog. And to the few people who are exceptions to that general rule — thank you for being so supportive!
I just hit two or three web pages in a row (TechCrunch, Digg and the Meebo blog) wherein each post I read had 80+ comments that reminded me why I rarely ever actually read comments.
Haters, trolls, flamers, spammers — whatever you want to call them, the internet is ridden with people who are filled with spite and rage. The funny thing is that in no other forum (except for perhaps while driving) are people this cruel to one another. It’s just not socially acceptable.
I realize that e-hate isn’t a new problem: in fact, it dates back to the early days of UseNet, Netiquette and the ol’ “do we allow AOLer’s on the internet” debate. While doing some fact-checking on wikipedia, I was really amused to read about Godwin’s Law, which sums up what I’m talking about better than I ever could: “As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”
We all know the Kathy Sierra story. I’m glad she had a thick enough skin to re-emerge in the blogging world and on Twitter because the world is a better place with her contributions than it is without them.
We all remember The Great Sarah Lacy Twitter Massacre of SXSW 2008. I recently met Sarah at a tech event in DC and, believe it or not, she doesn’t have horns, literally or figuratively.
Jason Calacanis recently “retired” from blogging. When I read his post, I immediately thought that it was just a PR stunt, but I’m beginning to realize that I can sympathize with his viewpoint. I really don’t want to ever be an A-list blogger or “internet famous” because it’s just like painting a big target on your own ass.
I love my family and close friends, I love the physical neighborhood in which I live and I love the virtual networks that have developed around my career and my passions for the past 15 years or so that I’ve been using the internet.
But honestly, a big part of me doesn’t want anyone else to read this. Not because I don’t take criticism well. (I don’t, but then again nobody does.) I just wish some of the same general rules that apply to social interactions — at say, a cocktail party, a baseball game or at the supermarket — would apply to the internet.