What I learned about momentum from Will Smith and the wall metaphor

This week I reflected on a powerful metaphor told by actor Will Smith. I found this years ago, and I occasionally come back to it. It helps me avoid losing momentum. For convenience, I’ve transcribed his monologue here.

“You don’t try to build a wall. You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say I’m gonna build the biggest, baddest, greatest wall that’s even been built. You don’t start there. You say ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid. There will not be one brick on the face of the earth that’s gonna be laid better than this brick that I’m gonna lay in this next 10 minutes’. And you do that every single day and soon you have a wall.”

During childhood, Smith and his brother built a brick wall. The task was done in after-school hours and took weeks if not months.

The wall metaphor is powerful for a few reasons:

• Breaking down impossible goals into manageable pieces.

• Building habits and creating momentum.

Breaking down impossible goals into manageable pieces

When you set out to achieve something great, the first reaction is ‘stop, that’s impossible’. You want to build a wall but you’ve never touched a brick in your life.

For you, in that moment, it is impossible. There’s no proof you can do it because you’ve never done it before. Breaking down challenges into small pieces helps overcome this. Which brick will you lay today?

The project starts at 0. No forward movement. Through sheer will you push it forward. You get the ball rolling. You lay the first brick.

Building habits and creating momentum

When you first start a new craft or hobby, it sucks. The first few reps go in the trash. You don’t have much to show for the effort. But, you do have something. You have momentum. And if you stop, you do lose something. You lose momentum.

Momentum is subtle. It’s hard to see it when you have it and when you don’t. To see it you have to look into the past and measure your performance. You have to look at your half-finished brick wall and admire the straight lines, the consistency.

I’ve experienced this first hand with writing and with running. I hit a stride and I’m raising the bar week after week. Then some curveball flies and knocks me off course. I stop writing/running.

Weeks go by. I come back and look at what I did just before stopping. I am amazed by what I had done. And I ask myself: why did I stop? Then I start the cycle again, regaining momentum. After taking a long break, the next brick is never laid to the previous standard.

My high school band teacher used to say: “skipping a day of practice is like losing a week of practice.” He understood momentum.

What I learned from wanting lifestyle changes but failing to commit

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Image from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/en/turtle-tortoise-swim-sea-turtle-863336/

A long time back I read a piece by Derek Sivers called “No Yes. Either HELL YEAH or No“. I never really applied it. The main idea is to say ‘no’ to more requests, and to sign up for exciting things. Things that excite you.

I haven’t applied the ‘HELL YEAH’ or ‘no’ strategy. I’m not quite ready for that. I have to deal with some ‘maybe’s first. I have applied a say ‘maybe’ less strategy. This has changed my lifestyle in positive ways.

It begins like this. While I get ready for bed, wife asks: ‘are you going running or going to the gym tomorrow?’. The best answer is ‘yes’. The second best answer is ‘no because [completely valid reason i.e. an early morning appointment]’.

The weak answers are ‘maybe’ or ‘we’ll see, ask me again in the morning’. These answers reek of procrastination.

Why is ‘maybe’ a weak response?

‘Maybe’ is uncertainty. You can’t effectively plan ahead because you’re not certain about what to plan for. Uncertainty is the enemy of confidence.

‘Maybe’ is commitment avoidance. The decision is deferred. You shrink a little bit inside and lose some confidence.

‘Maybe’ is confrontation avoidance. You don’t want to offend him by saying ‘no’. So you inflict him with uncertainty.

‘Maybe’ shows a lack of direction. Unclear goals and priorities. If you know your priorities you can more easily decide ‘yes’ or ‘no’. You become more decisive. And more confident.

It Works

It works. After I replaced ‘Maybe’ with ‘Yes’ I showed up at the gym more.


We haven’t gotten to the power of ‘no’ yet. Save that for next time..

What I learned from having too many ideas and too little time

Just before the twins were born I realized my time was more valuable than ever before. I shifted from adding to subtracting things to\from my life. Choosing what to add is hard enough, how do you choose what to subtract? At some point you find you can do everything you want at the same time, but you cannot do all of it well, and definitely not by yourself.

James Clear recently shared a powerful mental model with his email list. It’s a strategy for solving this same problem of choosing what to subtract. For helping you prioritize life and business. I personally struggle with prioritizing between ideas and activities, so James’ piece resonated. I re-read it several times and I think about it daily.

Photo of roses from our front yard.

In our front yard we have 4 waist high rose bushes. My favorite is the white one nearest the side-walk. If left on its own it grows into a leafy, thorny mess. Without pruning the branches choke each other out, wasting valuable resources like sunlight and water. And then as a result it’s flowers fail to bloom to their potential. Pruning is essential for beautiful, thriving roses.

The strategy shared by James calls for you to think of your life as a rose bush. Roses need to be pruned once a year, every year. Subtracting things from your life is like pruning branches. What do you prune? How much do you prune?

Pruning is uncomfortable. Sometimes you have to prune a perfectly healthy branch. The branch goes the wrong direction, competes with, or conflicts with another nearby branch. Similarly in life you might have to prune things you like but aren’t going the right direction. Pruning is necessary in order to make space for something with more growth potential.

I am seemingly always out of time for hobbies and pursuing ideas. Writing, running, reading, etc all compete for limited time. And there’s not much time left after factoring in a career and other important things like family, relationships. Making space for ideas to really blossom requires pruning away some good branches.

You can have anything you want, but most things worth having require some kind of sacrifice.

What I learned about Engineering from Elon Musk and the Fluffer Machine

During an investor conference call earlier this year, electric car company Tesla shared insights into assembly line optimizations. One stand out story involves the fluffer machine.

Edited Transcript of TSLA earnings conference call or presentation 2-May-18

“Like so we had fluffer bot, which was really an incredibly difficult machine to make work. Machines are not good at picking up pieces of fluff, okay. Human hands are way better at doing that. And so we had a super complicated machine using a vision system to try to put a piece of fluff on the battery pack. That same — and one of the questions asked was, “Do we actually need that?” So we tested a car with and without and found that there was no change in the noise volume in the cabin, so we actually had a part that was unnecessary that was — of course, the line kept breaking down because fluffer bot would frequently just fail to pick up the fluff or put it in like a random location. So that was one of the silliest things I found.”

So, they had this crazy complicated fluff machine. And a bunch of really smart people spent days trying to make it work. But no one, at least initially, questioned whether the machine was needed at all.

When the question was finally raised, the engineers challenged their assumptions, tested the theory. And they concluded the whole step of the process was unnecessary.

They scrapped the step, and the machine. Avoided getting stuck in the sunk cost fallacy. And moved on without regret.

The Lesson

Optimizing steps in your routine matters less than removing unecessary steps. Don’t waste your time over-optimizing activities you can stop doing altogether.

What I’ve learned about Productivity from Leading software engineering teams

A leader’s perspective on getting more things done in 2018.

“A Field Notes memo book on top of a larger spiral notebook with two sharpies on the right and a phone on the left” by Kari Shea on Unsplash

Hi, I’m Torrey. I’m a leader of engineers, and a father of twins (nearly 2 years old now). I want to share my productivity philosophy that allows me to scale myself and juggle a half-dozen projects. I believe in continuous, life-long learning and constant experimentation. Many of the ideas below are born out of trial and error.

TLDR;

  • Defeat procrastination by taking imperfect action\
  • What you don’t do is even more important that what you do do
  • Deploy Drucker’s 4 D’s: Do, Drop, Delegate, Defer
  • Schedule everything — including time to do nothing
  • Stay proactive by journaling

Defeat procrastination by taking imperfect action\

Whenever you need to accomplish something important, but not urgent, it’s easily to fall into the procrastination trap. It seems like the longer you wait, the harder it is to get started. The simplest thing you can do to break that cycle is to take some small, imperfect action.

Examples: tell a friend what you need to do. Schedule a block of time on your calendar to work on the task. Send an email to yourself summarizing your half-baked thoughts. Write a few sentences in your journal.

Creating a tiny bit of momentum makes it easier to keep the ball rolling, and even accelerate.

What you don’t do is even more important than what you do do.

The world of now is one of endless entertainment and opportunity. If you are not deliberate and you do not filter out things that are low value to you, you will be overwhelmed and pulled in too many directions.

The ‘when’ is also crucial. If you are not thinking about how you spend your time today, question your sense of urgency. If you take on tasks with the wrong urgency, you are spending time ineffectively. Time you give to something due next month is time you could give to something due this afternoon.

Not every request you receive is ASAP. The world’s top high performance coach, Brendon Burchard, shares a strategy for solving this problem. He responds to every request with a very harsh and direct question: what is the absolute, drop-dead, world-will-explode, deadline for this request?

Deploy Drucker’s 4 D’s: Drop, Delegate, Defer, Do

Management guru Peter Drucker created this framework for request management, called the 4D’s. I use this almost every day.

If you’re not going to do something or you don’t care about it, you Drop it. The request takes no more of your attention and fades from mind. In your email app this is the “Archive” button, “Delete” button, or “Junk” button.

If you want someone else to do something, you Delegate it. You ask someone to help, stop thinking about it for now, and you follow up on the results later. In your email app this is the “forward”/“reply-all” and “schedule” buttons.

If you are unable to take action now, and want to come back to a task later, you Defer it. You let it leave your attention so you can stay focused on more urgent tasks. In your email app this is the “schedule” button.

Lastly, just Do it.

Schedule everything — including time to do nothing

The calendar in your smartphone is an amazing tool. Put everything on your calendar, as to outsource your brain’s memory. All your appointments, daily activities like going to the gym, commuting, spending time with family, hanging out with friends, whatever. This works wonders because of three things. 1. You don’t have to rely on your fallible memory to remember to do something. 2. You will be automatically reminded when it’s time to switch activities. 3. Other people usually see that, according to your calendar, you are busy and find another time to meet.

Make space to jump into firefighting mode when needed, but avoid being too opportunistic. Plan work weeks in advance. Ask: What do I want to be working on 3 weeks from now? When you force yourself to think farther out, you may be surprised by how difficult it is. You end up asking another question: what do I want to be doing in 3 weeks? Then, you have created your own agenda rather than someone else creating an agenda for you.

Stay proactive by journaling

As the week wears on, your energy levels dip. It becomes more difficult to stay focused on work that matters. And, it’s easier to slip out of proactivity into reactive mode. The way I solve this problem is by taking time every night to reflect and plan for tomorrow.

My daily journal format evolves constantly. At the moment I focus on these key things.

  • Luck — what great things happened today that were entirely due to luck? What action did I take in the past to create that luck?
  • Innovations — what new things, methods, routines did I try today? Did they work?
  • What didn’t go well — and why?
  • Plan for tomorrow — how can tomorrow be better than today? What are tomorrow’s goals?

*Thanks for reading! Disagree? Let me know what you think.*


This post was also shared on Medium [here]

 

What I learned about Living Life from Jesse Itlzer – author, rapper, entrepreneur

Not that Jesse Itzler has it all figured out. He just seems like he’s figured out more than the rest of us. He’s figured out how to live. The post below is a collection of nuggets I’ve picked up from multiple interviews and Jesse’s breakout book “Living with a SEAL” in which Jesse tells the story of living with high-endurance athlete and all-around badass David Goggins.

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The three most memorable nuggets are:

  1. Send hand-written letters.
  2. Take the path with the best story.
  3. Use math to decide how to spend time.

Send hand-written letters

At one point in his life, Jesse Itzler was spending 1 hour per day hand-writing letters of gratitude. Those letters shifted his mindset and led to profitable business relationships.

This is why it works. Writing letters by hand is out of fashion. And, most people don’t bother to express gratitude.

Writing the letter feels good, and receiving the letter feels good. Since almost no one takes the time to hand-write letters, by doing so you immediately stand out from the crowd. Since you took time to compose a sincere message, you express genuine care for the person you write to.

Take the path with the best story

Jesse has lived more than most of us. From launching businesses, to crazy 100 mile endurance runs, to living with monks. He seems to use a story-tellers mental model for deciding how to live.

The mental model is a guide on how to live a more exciting life.  When given an opportunity, consider the story as part of the reward.  Usually, the worst thing that can happen is nothing.  You may miserably fail, but you will have a story to tell.  If instead you choose to stay home on the couch, you won’t even have the story. So get moving!

Use math to decide how to spend time

Itzler talks about how, as he turns 50, he re-evaluates how he spends his time, using math. I’m certain a 25 year old who takes this advice to heart will live a vastly different life.  He uses math to re-frame decisions in the bigger picture.  For example, if you spend 2 hours a day watching TV, that’s 700 hours a year, or 7,000 hours over the next 10 years. What would you rather do with those 7,000 hours?

The other way Jesse uses math is to better appreciate relationships.  The average american life span is 78 years.  If your parents are already 65, they may only have 13 years of life remaining.  If you only visit them twice a year, you have only 26 visits left.  Make the most of every single visit.

Books by Jesse Itzler

Living with the Monks: What Turning Off My Phone Taught Me about Happiness, Gratitude, and Focus

Living with a SEAL: 31 Days Training with the Toughest Man on the Planet

I’ve read Living with a SEAL, and highly enjoyed it. It is a very entertaining and inspiring read.


This post is written in honor of the great master, Banri Hoshi.

Monthly meta post: What I learned about Writing from Writing May, 2018

It’s now been 3 years, 5 months since I started writing online (January 1st, 2015). And it feels like I’m just getting started.

I haven’t kept track of how much time I’ve invested but I’ll estimate around 150 hours, mostly on weekends. A long way to go to reach 10,000 hours of mastery. During that time I’ve authored hundreds of articles, and twice I’ve entirely quit. Brutal!

After three years a small group of fans reads what I write. Very cool :).

When you are the only one pushing yourself forward, it takes a long time to overcome self-doubt. This is what the inner voice says: Who am I to give advice to anyone? What have I accomplished? What will my friends think? Family think? Coworkers think? I’m no good at this, what’s the point? Some people never silence that voice. They live their entire lives with that voice, always putting the brakes on, holding back. Like James Altucher says, you have to choose yourself.

This month was a killer month. I found some dirty tricks to boost traffic, and I learned a lot. I also received some amazing feedback from readers which I took to heart. Shout out to Makrand Patil!

Torrey.blog overall stats May, 2018

  • 210 visitors
  • 301 views
  • 1.43 views per visitor
  • 30 likes

Stats for each post visited in May, 2018

Title Views
Reading Time
1
117 5 min
2
What I learned from buying too many books 30 2 min
3
What I learned from getting hit by a car 24 1 min
4
What I learned from So Good They Can’t Ignore You 21 3 min
5
What I learned about Work/Life Balance from Jeff Bezos 14 2 min
6
14 2 min
7
Why has experience helped some and not others? 10 N/A
8
9 3 min
9
What I learned about leadership from Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella 9 2 min
10
What I learned from The Three Laws of Performance 8 3 min
11
8 2 min
12
What I learned about Trust 8 3 min
13
6 2 min
14
What I learned from Simon Sinek 6 1 min
15
What I learned about Urgency from Les Brown (motivational speaker) 5 1 min
16
How to Waste your Summer Internship without getting Fired 3 3 min
17
What I learned about Behavior from Sway 3 2 min
19
What I learned about Manhood from Sir Richard Branson’s father 3 1 min
20
What I learned from asking companies for money 2 2 min
21
What I learned about writing from sharing my work with a writer 2 5 min

Themes

  • 7 posts about books I’ve read
  • 3 posts sharing personal stories
  • 4 posts inspired by YouTube videos
  • 1 post inspired by a podcast

Takeaways

Longer posts get more exposure. They are also better search engine optimized (SEO). One analysis concluded 8 minutes reading time is the optimal length.

Traffic redirect trick. Tesla Motors restructuring was a hot news topic on the LinkedIn social network. I commented on several articles and included a link to my post about the recently leaked Tesla memo. This proved an effective way to attract dozens of visitors.

Posts about popular topics get more attention (duh). Writing about Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, their companies, or other big names attracts more visitors.


Conclusion

When it comes to writing, if you’re aiming for quick fame and glory, good luck! Remember

The best way to succeed in writing is to write.

What I learned about Behavior from Sway

I’ve just finished a fun, short book called Sway: The Irresistable Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman.

An amazing story in the book explains how an airline’s safety champion became victim to loss aversion and commitment. The captain ignored take-off protocols and ultimately killed everyone on his plane. These subtle psychological forces cause risky, irrational behavior.

A NASA research project attempted to solve this problem as to prevent future disasters. NASA arrived at a solution of training pilots and co-pilots. The co-pilots must speak up and voice dissent, while captains must be receptive to dissent.

Dissent is really hard. Psychologists have found consensus is part of human nature. If no one else opposes the group, it’s hard to raise your own conflicting points. A sort of script is defined to help co-pilots initiate the discussion:

First, state the facts. “Captain, we are currently at 10,000 ft elevation and 30% fuel”

Second, state the captain’s first name. “John”

Third, ask a question: “have you thought about declining fuel levels?”

This dialog is designed to snap the captain out of tunnel vision and save lives.

While it is difficult to go against group think and dissent, it is beneficial to do so. Some teams will even designate a devil’s advocate to intentionally challenge an idea or decision. Even if the group is not swayed, this activity helps find weak points. Then, the final result is better because the weak points can be mitigated, rather than glossed over.

How to Apply It

How many times, daily, do you say a phrase like “I disagree”? If it’s ZERO, maybe dig in and question yourself.

When making a big decision in a group setting, designate a devil’s advocate to debate against the popular opinion.

What I learned about Work/Life Balance from Jeff Bezos

Let’s debunk the myth that working at a large company implies better work life balance. Maybe there is more expectation to work long hours at a startup. Having never joined a startup company, I’m no expert. Employees of large companies face heavy delivery pressure all the same.

As an employee at a large corporation, I have so far failed to find the magical “I’m home” switch for disabling the work brain. Anyone can still decide to keep working into the night. I am still bad at this, despite family matters.

Shortly after my kids popped out a mindset shift occurred for me. At that point I realize my time is more valuable than ever. I choose how time is spent. Saying ‘no’ becomes crucial. The only way to add something new to a full day is to sacrifice something else.

Jeff Bezos says work/life balance is the wrong thing to strive for because it implies a strict trade off between work and life. He instead promotes work/life harmony. This is how he defines harmony:

If I am happy at home, I come into the office with tremendous energy,” said Bezos. “And if I am happy at work, I come home with tremendous energy. You never want to be that guy — and we all have a coworker who’s that person — who, as soon as they

come into a meeting, they drain all the energy out of the room … You want to come into the office and give everyone a kick in their step.

How To Apply All of This

Seek a lifestyle that gives you the best energy at both work and at home. And, drop activities or people that drain your energy. Then you can be your genuine, best self at all times.

What I learned about Happiness from Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

Tony Hsieh tells the riveting story of his business life and the story of building Zappos in Delivering Happiness.

The book dives into the philosophical, defining the root of happiness. And from there it explains how these things drive Hsieh to make life and business decisions.

Happiness comes from four things:

  1. Perceived control

  2. Perceived progress

  3. Human connection

  4. Being part of something bigger than yourself

Perceived Control

Work happiness level correlates to how much control you feel you have over your work. For example, Zappos empowers employees to use their own judgment to best serve customers. There is no call center script. The folks answering the phones are happier because they have control over what they say and how they best serve you.

Perceived Progress

Work happiness level correlates to how much progress you feel you are making at work. For example, Zappos has developed a system for training employees. Mastering new skills earns badges. Employees who invest more time in learning earn more badges, their progress is measured and visible. They are happier as a result because they feel they are moving forward. Are you going in circles, backwards, or forward? Having clarity, competence, and confidence feels good.

Human Connection

Happiness correlates to the number of relationships and depth of relationships. One of the more controversial questions from the Gallup Q12 asks “do you have a best friend at work?”. Gallup found that answering ‘yes’ to this question correlates to higher performance, engagement, and work satisfaction. Having a best friend at work is surprisingly important for being happy at work.

Being Part of Something Bigger than Yourself

Happiness correlates to being a part of a movement or a mission. If you do something for the sole reason of collecting a paycheck you will be miserable and eventually you will quit. What is your “why”? You are a tiny spec of dust on one tiny blue planet in the grand, wide universe.

How to Apply All of This

  • Build career capital for later investment. Invest your capital to gain more control of your work and your life. Read more about this in my So Good They Can’t Ignore You post.
  • Set incremental SMART goals to progress on. Write down your goals. On paper! Amazingly, data shows that people who write down their goals are measurably more successful than people who do not write them down.
  • Make time to reconnect with friends and family.
  • Seek to understand why you are here. What is your mission?
  • Remember how large the universe is compared to you.