Your ToDo List Sucks

I had always been able to juggle my todos in my head.  But pretty quickly after I started my first full time job I had so much going on at work that I was overwhelmed.  I was  missing things and some of them were critical.  People noticed.

I started a todo list, but it wasn’t long before it became so lengthy that it was useless.  It was pages and pages of things that seemed important, but weren’t necessarily actionable.  It was impossible to work from.  I was still f*%ked.

Then I read a book that changed my life called Getting Things Done by David Allen.  The author offers a simple but extremely helpful method for organizing a list of Todos.  It was a lot of up front work to move over to his system, but it had a massive impact and basically solved my problem.

My mind was free (what I did with it of course is another story).

Here’s the Getting Things Done cheat sheet:

If you have anything but a clean, clear, short list of Todos, and it’s giving you anxiety at night (or any time) I highly recommend you check out this book.

Orders of Magnitude

There’s something to be said about only scaling by one order of magnitude.  Each time increasing something by no more than 10x the previous.

Why?  At each order of magnitude you’re probably going to learn something.

Going from 1 to 10 employees you’ll find new HR challenges.

The jump from producing 1000 to 10,000 products will expose manufacturing challenges.

Moving from 10,000 to 100,000 users will teach valuable lessons about customer support.

Skipping orders of magnitude is risky.  When you scale up too quickly, you can miss all the valuable lessons.

Of course supercharged growth is the goal when investors and capital get behind a business.  Pour money in to grow as quickly as possible.

It makes me wonder what things are being missed, and what’s going to break.

 

Motivating a Donkey

There’s two styles of motivation; nice and not so nice.

The nice is positive reinforcement, where you give/get a carrot when you do something you’re meant to.  The opposite is the stick, where you get a not so nice tap when you don’t.

Depending on the person and the situation both can be effective.  I’ve used both not just when trying to motivate others, but also when trying to motivate myself.

Problems happen however, when the carrot and stick get out of balance.  Too much carrot can turn into cake, and too much stick turns into a spiked bat.  Both of those end up having an opposite motivational effect.

I think we all have a bias to one way or another, especially when it comes to self motivation.   I’ve always tried to set my personal bar high, and my style definitely tends towards the stick.  The other day someone (helpfully) pointed out that maybe I had been using too much stick trying to motivate myself.  My tendency to stick myself (huh?) was starting to have the opposite effect.

Just make sure you’re in touch with the Donkey.  If it’s had so much cake that it’s diabetic, or has been hit so many times with the spiked bat that it’s scarred forever, it’s probably time to check your carrot/stick balance.

In The Moment

Ever have a great conversation where:

  • there were lots of notable points and takeaways;
  • all parties were undistracted and really engaged;
  • but afterwards you couldn’t recall all the details?

And so the next time you tried to take notes, and when you did:

  • it was difficult to keep good notes AND stay engaged;
  • you found the note taking to be distracting and inefficient?

There’s a few overlapping issues:

  1. For most people, conversational speech falls in somewhere between 150-180 words per minute.
  2. If you’re trying to type notes, the average typing speed is around 40 words per minute.
  3. The average handwriting speed is 13 words per minute.

With such a spread between the action and the ability to record it, it’s no wonder it’s hard to do both well.

For awhile I’ve been looking for a solution, and I recently tried a transcription software.  I have to say, the results were great.  While the transcription is not perfect, the software I’m using also captures an audio recording so it’s easy to go back after the fact for clarity.  I find I’m more engaged in conversation again and I’m not worried about missing anything.

Despite how distracted we tend to be by modern technology, the right tool applied in the right way can be incredibly powerful.

The Engagement Hurdle

It seems like many people measure success by engagement on big social media platforms.  They want more likes, more followers and more comments.

But are likes, followers and comments quality engagement?

Imagine that you’re working on something you’re really passionate about.  You make a video and post it on YouTube.  After sharing the link with a few friends and family you start to get some views, likes and comments.

It feels good to share it but there are a few problems.

First, how to you know that engagement is people who care about your project and not just people who care about you?  Mom or a good friend will always be supportive.

This kind of engagement is nice, but is that who you are trying to reach?

Second, how do you know it’s not just lazy engagement?  Most people are comfortable using sites like Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, etc.  Those sites make liking, subscribing and commenting a zero friction process.  We all know people who follow, like and comment on everything.

Are these the people you’re trying to reach?

So what is quality engagement?

You really want people who are truly interested in what you’re doing.  They’re the ones who have been waiting for a product, project or story like this.  To find these people, you need to setup an engagement hurdle that requires them to make a small effort to navigate away from that comfortable social scrolling.

You need to say: “There’s more over here, it’s just a small effort to come check it out.”

If you can entice their curiosity and get them to navigate away from their “just-because-it’s-you” likes and “lazy” engagement, you’ve got a small win.

If they’re not even willing to make the jump, it says that what you’re trying to share either isn’t clear, or they’re just not that interested.

Not clear you need to fix.  Not interested you don’t want.

When curiosity snaps someone out of the mindless infinite scroll, it means something.  Once you get their attention, it’s yours to decide what to do with it next.  Just make sure there’s something more for them when they arrive at your doorstep.

Why It’s Hard to Get a 6 Pack

(*6 pack abs, not beer.)

I’m on an anti-dad bod crusade.

I’ve become the family garburator, and I’m getting tired of the spare tire that comes with it.

My goal is to get rid of some stubborn fat.  I know I can do it.  I’ve been in great shape before and I know how to buckle down and improve my body composition.

There’s only one rule: be super diligent with what you eat.

Eating the right amount of calories and nutrients is the only important thing.  If you have the time, it’s a lot of work but it’s very doable.

But this time I have more responsibility and less time than when I did this in the past.  More than ever, I’m feeling like the whole food system is stacked against me.

See the food system, that’s everything from food producers and manufacturers, to restaurants, to storage, to retail, is the solution to a pre-industrialization food problem.  Before the mid 1800s (and for most of human history) food was expensive, scarce, and hard to get.  If you lived in the early 1800s, chances are that food would have accounted for 75% of your household budget.

Then boom, along comes the mechanization and tools of industry, and the problem could be addressed with a whole bunch of new techniques and strategies.  When the population could all of a sudden worry a less about food, more time and energy could be spent moving society forward.  It was a win for everyone.

150+ years later we have a different problems.

Every system has intended and unintended outputs.  For the food system, the intended output isn’t just food, it’s abundance, convenience and variety of food.  Those are the priority, not making sure someone can control what and how much they eat.  For some vain guy trying to look good in a bathing suit, it’s a pain, but the system over time has also produced some really undesirable outputs.

The First is Food Waste.

Here’s a fun fact: 900 million tons of food is wasted every year.

The average American (who is 150 lbs and technically overweight) eats one ton of food a year.  So all that wasted food is enough to feed 900 million overweight Americans.  The world average person is only 136lbs (and presumably eats at least 25% less food), so if you divided all that food waste up, it’s likely that just half of it would feed all the world’s 697 million food insecure people.

The Second is the Environmental Impact.

All that wasted food takes energy and resources to produce.  A lot of that energy production causes environmental damage.  In fact, food waste produces 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide.  If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses after the US and China.

Finally, there’s the Health Problems.

As a guy getting older, these hit my radar in a big way.  Even though I’m very lucky and don’t live with food insecurity, statistically I’m very likely to end up with heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, diabetes, or cancer which are all linked to our modern diet.

Listen, I’m not here to point fingers or blame anyone.  Like many things we have now, the food system is a product of the industrial revolution and nobody could have predicted what the long term effects would be.  But we have new tools and know all this bad stuff, so shouldn’t we be looking to make it better?  Or is it more important to protect our god given right to walk through the grocery store at 3am and be able to choose from 16 different flavors of Doritos?

Wish me luck on my quest to get my abs back, it’s going to be a tough one.

Pay Wall

A few months ago I bought a workout program from a fitness influencer.  I found this guy through my google searches; he had produced a bunch of YouTube content that ranked at the top of my search results.

I clicked through to his videos and they did a great job of indirectly marketing to me.  His production is great, he comes across as genuine and knowledgable, and gives a lot of good information for free.  When he pitched the $5 downloadable program I decided to bite.  After all it was only $5.

What I got was a 30 or so page .pdf file delivered to my email inbox.  It was flat, boring, and not particularly interactive.  I was, in a word, underwhelmed.

It’s not that the actual program content was bad, but the experience fell short of what my experience had been with his marketing.  Clearly he put much more time and effort into that free content than he had into the almost free.

It’s a tricky thing to put a product like this behind a pay wall.  If I get great content for free, shouldn’t the paid content be multiple times better?  I paid nothing and got a well produced, engaging video with great information.  I paid $5 and I got a flat, lifeless .pdf file.  That math doesn’t make sense.

If this guy was planning to make money off me, he’s not getting any more than that throwaway $5 I already spent.  He had his chance to make a first impression and wow me with his paid product and he failed.

I think anyone who is considering putting something behind a pay wall, even for a “throwaway” amount, should think really hard about why they’re doing it.  You can only sell so many 1 time cheap downloads of a well marketed but sub-par product and expect people to come back and pay for more.

The Biometric Man

About a half a year ago I started to notice that I was more tired and sore than ever.  I’m talking really tired and really sore.  So tired that I would sleep 9 hours and still feel like a nap in the afternoon.  I was waking up so sore some days that it was hard to walk.

The strange thing is I wasn’t doing anything differently.  I was working out like I had always been and I was eating a good diet of mainly nutritious, whole foods.

Something was up.

I was way too young to be feeling like this.

I ended up reaching out to a friend who is a naturopathic doctor.  We ran a bunch of blood tests and found that I had high inflammatory markers.  Some very high.

She told me the inflammation was likely due to over training or some missing elements in my nutrition.  She suggested adding some supplements to my diet, as well as changing and tracking my nutrition and training.  Along with this she suggested that I start wearing a biometric tracking device.

The nutrition and training changes made sense, but a biometric device?  I was skeptical.  See, I have this very pricey GPS watch and I know from experience that it isn’t always accurate.  It has a step counter that I’ve checked by literally counting my steps and it’s never quite right.  I’ve even googled “How accurate are step counters” and apparently they can be off as much as 10% to 30% on steps and calories.  That’s not exactly confidence inspiring accuracy, so I had doubts about the quality of data that this device could actually collect.

But I needed to do something.  I wasn’t ready to roll over and accept my tired and sore state.  I wanted to keep an active lifestyle well into my later years, and I was ready to do anything to fix this problem.

So I ordered one.

When it arrived I charged it up and installed the app on my phone.  It works by distilling a bunch of data into two key metrics, 1) how hard is your body working through the day and 2) how recovered are you.  You wear it 24/7 and it gives you regular feedback in the app as it analyzes this data.

The reports at first didn’t really mean much to me.  I’d wake up one day and it would say I’m 68% recovered, and the next I would be 92% recovered, but I could feel that 24% difference.

Then, it happened.

About a month after starting to wear this tracker, I got a pretty nasty GI bug.  I started feeling sick overnight and spent most of the next day between the toilet and the bathroom.

The day after that my recovery score was the lowest I had seen since I started wearing the device.  From all the data it had collected it knew that something was off.

Then, it happened again.

A month later, after a very long span of drinking zero alcohol, I found myself having a few cocktails.  It was nothing excessive, but the next morning I felt like crap.  Of course, ta-da, another super low recovery score.  Despite the fact that I had slept, the alcohol made an impact and the device noticed.

My skepticism was breaking down, I could see that at the very least this thing was able to pick up the extremes.

Another month passes and I have a bit of dental surgery that is serious enough to put me out for the day.  The device again recognizes that something has happened and my body was struggling to recover.

But I still wasn’t totally sold.

Sure, it could pick up major discrepancies in my stress and recovery, but what about something less intense?

The opportunity came to test something less serious when I got a bit of a cold.  You know like when you feel symptoms but can still go about your day?  These are the days when there’s a fine line between pushing yourself enough and pushing a bit too hard.

Great, a perfect test.

I woke up with symptoms and watched the tracking data throughout the day.  I had planned on doing a short, low intensity rowing workout in the early afternoon.  When it got to workout time I noticed I had already stressed my body to a level that I usually got by the end of a regular day.

I sat down on the rowing machine anyways.  The old me would have pushed through it, but after a few pulls I thought to myself:

“Nope, I’m going to pay for this tomorrow.”

I stood up and abandoned ship, something I never would have done before.

The rest of the day went by as normal, but when I checked my calorie burn at bedtime and I had burned 40% more calories that day than usual.  Despite feeling only some mild symptoms, my body was still working hard to recover.

The next day I had a middle of the road recovery score and a few cold symptoms still, but I can only imagine how much worse it would have been if I had pushed it and done that workout.

So, I’m Totally Sold On Biometric Devices.

Before I tried this device, my sore and tired symptoms had me worried that I’d have to drastically change my level of activity.  I thought age was catching up and I’d have no choice but to start to slow down.

Then I strapped this thing on.

Having a better understanding of what’s going on with my body gives me the confidence and ability to manage how hard I push myself.  My “strategy” before was to push hard all the time and sometimes suffer because of it.  Clearly that wasn’t working well.  Following my biometric data and pushing accordingly is much more efficient.

If you’re active and want to maximize the efficiency of your activity, I’d definitely consider trying one of these puppies out.  I got a WHOOP, which is a wrist band, but there are other options out there and I’m sure they will only get better and better.

Here’s to a few more years of pushing just hard enough.

Permission

I think email is great.  It’s one of a few standard ways of exchanging information over the internet that anyone can use.  As an open web protocol it’s a powerful tool that connects all of us.

But email is also abused.  I find I have to fight pretty hard to keep my inbox from filling up with crap I never wanted.  I am constantly unsubscribing from email marketing that I couldn’t even recall signing up for.

What’s happening?  People aren’t asking for permission.

I’m ok if someone wants to keep in touch, but I don’t like the sneaky tactics.  Don’t default to opt in.  Don’t bury your intentions in the fine print.   Nobody likes sneaky, don’t try to hide it.  You don’t earn trust that way, and trust is what you want.

Here’s what you can do: be forward, honest and clear.  Make your case to keep in touch, tell me exactly how you’re going to do it, and make it my option to opt in:

“This is who I am, here’s exactly what I’d like to send you and how often, are you interested?”

Do this or please stay the eff out of my inbox!