Happy Super Bowl Sunday! Sorry for not posting in a while.
The past few weeks have been hectic. Most of our household caught a virus, work spilled over onto weekends, and we invested a bunch of time in Lunar New Year celebrations — happy year of the rat!
On the running front, I’m behind. I’m still preparing for the Big Sur International Marathon this April. Cold weather and viral infections have thrown a wrench in my training schedule. I’m getting back on track.
On the reading front, I recently enjoyed Sandworm by Andy Greenberg. It is a frightening narrative connecting some of the world’s most devastating cyber attacks and attempts to attribute the attacks to the people behind them. Hint: Eastern European nation state.
I’m also in the middle of reading Jock Willink’s new book titled Leadership Strategy and Tactics. It’s a bit of a rehashing of the principles explained in Extreme Ownership which was also co-authored by Willink. The leadership principle from these books I am thinking most about is “Decentralized Command”.
I’m also really enjoying by Scribd subscription which gives me on demand access to millions of eBooks and audiobooks. If you use my link to sign up for a free 1-month trial, I can also get a free month of Scribd. If you do, thanks for your support!
Via Scribd I discovered “Snapshots” which are like 5-10 minute summaries of great non-fiction books. My favorite one is a summary of the book titled The Productivity Project. The ideas in this book build on David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
On the writing front, I haven’t done much at all. In fact, I feel a daily pang of regret that I haven’t posted here or continued my work-blog. I still think about and see rampant gaps in communications. There is a lot going on, a lot more than is talked about. Every week I tell myself to write more, and then I allow other things to get in the way. Brutal truth!
Thanks for reading! See you next week. Please follow or subscribe. I love to read and respond to your comments, too.
Elon Musk, during a recent interview, described corporations as cybernetic collectives of people and machines. Corporations vary in size and market cap. Why are some corporations more effective than others? I think Communication is a huge part of it.
For example, Amazon.com’s unique communication style. Meetings begin with carefully prepared 6 page memos, read silently by attendees before beginning discussion.
How do most people in corporations communicate? In many cases, they communicate by sending lots of email messages. So, writing more effective emails makes you more effective and helps the rest of the team, too. Your job as a writer of emails is to save the reader’s time.
Five practical tips for being an effective emailer:
Name your target
Just get out with it
Write shorter emails
Make a phone call
Avoid detective games
1. Name your target
When you’re making a request, you must have a person or person(s) in mind who can fulfill your request. Don’t be shy, name them. These people are your target.
Try not to make requests to “somebody” or “anybody” because you will end up with a response from “nobody”. Highlight or tag (@name) the name of your target to grab their attention.
2. Just get out with it
Just get out with it. State your request first and provide detailed context later. People are lazy readers, they can read the first sentence and decide whether to continue reading.
It feels unnatural to skip the build up, but do it anyway. The reader can dig into the meat if they want. Take it to the next level by making the request very succinct.
3. Write shorter emails
Write shorter emails. Try to get it done in 3 sentences or less. Most people are lazy readers, they’re not going to carefully read your wall of text. So, you’re wasting keystrokes typing all of it.
4. Make a phone call
When there is a lot of back and forth, stop using email and make a phone call. Exchanging paragraphs of text back and forth may be a signal a 10 minute phone or in-person conversation would be more effective.
5. Avoid Detective Games
If you’re referencing a document or web site or anything, hyperlink directly to what you’re talking about. Or include a screenshot/image. Better yet, draw a red box around the part of the image you’re talking about.
Don’t make me (the reader), play a game of figuring out what you’re referencing. Save me as many clicks as possible by giving me a hyperlink. Doing this makes it easier for me to understand and reply. We both get better results.
On Friday I ran my 11ish miles commute to work. It went exactly as planned, I arrived 2.5 hours after setting foot on the road. I’m feeling confident, prepared for the upcoming Pasadena half marathon on 1/20.
Reading while Running
During these long runs I listen to audiobooks. Right now I’m enjoying James A. Corey’s Caliban’s War. Its the second book in the series which was turned into Sci-fi TV Show The Expanse.
One part of the book that struck me was a description of future society on Earth. After most jobs disappeared, government offered basic support for citizens. The population divided itself into two large groups: the engaged and the apathetic. The engaged choose to work even they don’t have to. The apathetic don’t care and live out their lives on basic support.
It struck me because this divide is already happening. For example, there is an epidemic of unemployment in millennial men (the apathetic). What do the engaged people do? I think they vote, give blood, and go to work.
New Reading Habit
After reading James Clear’s article “How to read more”, I’ve been enjoying a new habit. My watch alarm goes off at 6am and I read 20 pages from a book. Reading beyond 20 pages is bonus points. Thanks to this habit, I read two books this week.
Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard shares the amazing origin and growth story of outdoor equipment company Patagonia, Inc. Patagonia offers an unconventional model for sustainable, eco-friendly, and responsible business. Chouinard shows how the human race is not doing nearly enough to prevent and reverse ecological harm.
Bored and Brilliant by Manoush Zomorodi delves into a wide variety of topics: the psychology of daydreaming, introversion, technology and social media addiction, creative work, mindfulness and meditation. It offers practical steps for becoming more aware of distractions and habits, and taking back (some) control. The most powerful nugget I found in the book is “Tan’s Ten-Second Meditation Practice” from Chade-Meng Tan.
1. Bring a person into your mind, preferably someone you care about.
2. Think I wish for this person to be happy.
3. Maintain the thought for three breaths, in and out.
4. Do this every day to turn your wish for other people’s happiness into a habit … that will bring you happiness, too.
After the morning reading habit sinks in, I’m looking to stack a writing habit on top.
Reviewing daily and weekly routines is a useful productivity tool. If you’re not making enough progress in a specific area, think about related routines. If there are no routines there, create one, and set reminders. Over time routines become habit, automatic, and reminders become unnecessary.
The idea of publishing weekly updates is inspired by Troy Hunt.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
Optimizing steps in your routine matters less than removing unecessary steps. Don’t waste your time over-optimizing activities you can stop doing altogether.
A leader’s perspective on getting more things done in 2018.
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.
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.*
Here are 10 of the book’s nuggets that resonated with me:
1. The passion hypothesis is false.
Instead of searching for work you love, start to love your work. Take ownership of your work and change it in subtle ways that make you love it more.
2. The craftsman mindset beats the passion mindset.
Do remarkable work. Take pride in your work. Whistle while you work. This will get you farther than chasing your passions.
3. Build career capital and invest it to gain creativity, impact, control
The path to gain creative freedom, have more impact, and take more control over your agenda requires career capital. You have to build career capital gradually over months and years of delivering great results and building a support network.
4. Record your day in 15 minute increments
Where is your time actually going? Are you spending time on important work that moves you toward your goals? Or low value tasks that have little ROI?
5. Limit email to 90 min/day
Email is not work. (Unless your job is primarily writing emails)
6. Look for career capital already available to you, right in front of you.
You have career resources you may not realize. Your network, alumni groups, community are great examples. Enroll these people in your support network. This is an important part of building career capital.
7. Control is the dream job elixir.
Spend and invest your career capital to gain more control over your work. This is the path to loving your work and producing something remarkable. The path to finding, carving out your dream job.
8. Get paid
Getting paid is a measure of the career capital theory. You are ready to pursue an idea when you find someone to pay you to pursue it. If no one will pay you for the work, you aren’t good enough yet.
9. Do marketable, remarkable work
Do work that stands out. Work that stands out is remarkable and marketable. It gets people’s attention because it stands out and it makes you stand out from the crowd.
10. Working right trumps finding the right work
Stop searching for the perfect project. YOU are the project.
Last week’s leaked Tesla memo is fascinating, and so is the annual Amazon.com letter to shareholders. The memos were seemingly penned by Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos, which gives us a rare view of how they lead their world-changing companies. Here I dive into why I love these memos.
– Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.
– Also get rid of frequent meetings, unless you are dealing with an extremely urgent matter. Meeting frequency should drop rapidly once the urgent matter is resolved.
– Walk out of a meeting or drop off a call as soon as it is obvious you aren’t adding value. It is not rude to leave, it is rude to make someone stay and waste their time. (Emphasis mine)
– Don’t use acronyms or nonsense words for objects, software or processes at Tesla. In general, anything that requires an explanation inhibits communication. We don’t want people to have to memorize a glossary just to function at Tesla.
– Communication should travel via the shortest path necessary to get the job done, not through the “chain of command”. Any manager who attempts to enforce chain of command communication will soon find themselves working elsewhere.
– A major source of issues is poor communication between depts. The way to solve this is allow free flow of information between all levels. If, in order to get something done between depts, an individual contributor has to talk to their manager, who talks to a director, who talks to a VP, who talks to another VP, who talks to a director, who talks to a manager, who talks to someone doing the actual work, then super dumb things will happen. It must be ok for people to talk directly and just make the right thing happen.
– In general, always pick common sense as your guide. If following a “company rule” is obviously ridiculous in a particular situation, such that it would make for a great Dilbert cartoon, then the rule should change.
Why I love this:
I think I have too many meetings
Sometimes I wish people would get up and leave meeting I have organized, because I mistakenly invited them. They have to stop what they’re doing to come to the meeting. Wasting more of their time adds insult to injury. They won’t leave because they think it’s rude.
I think some people go to every meeting they are invited to without questioning the value or the trade offs.
Sometimes I wish meetings were a lot smaller. I try to add up the salary of everyone in the room to estimate the cost and ROI of the meeting.
“Chain of command” sounds really antiquated. Of course this kind of red tape gets in the way of getting things done. As a manager I try to get out of the way as much as possible, let engineers talk to engineers. Very rarely have I heard anyone complain about chain of command.
Acronyms get really confusing. People who don’t know what they mean pretend like they do so they can avoid looking bad. I hate jargon.
Common sense is surprisingly not very common. Jeff Bezos, in last year’s letter, talks about process as proxies. Following rules reminds me of that. If you focus on following all the rules and nothing else, you are dead. You lose touch of what is actually important: the end product and customer; getting things done.
A close friend recently decided to learn to do a perfect free-standing handstand. No leaning against a wall. Not for just a few seconds. Instagram good. She decided to start her journey by taking a handstand workshop at her yoga studio. She then practiced for a while but wasn’t getting the results she wanted. So, she hired a handstand coach. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, but evidently this is an actual thing that exists. In the very first lesson, the coach gave her some wonderful advice. “Most people,” he said, “think that if they work hard, they should be able to master a handstand in about two weeks. The reality is that it takes about six months of daily practice. If you think you should be able to do it in two weeks, you’re just going to end up quitting.” Unrealistic beliefs on scope – often hidden and undiscussed – kill high standards. To achieve high standards yourself or as part of a team, you need to form and proactively communicate realistic beliefs about how hard something is going to be – something this coach understood well.
It’s called work for a reason! Achieving high standards requires putting in the work. You have to delay gratification to achieve big goals.
How Amazon does meetings:
We don’t do PowerPoint (or any other slide-oriented) presentations at Amazon. Instead, we write narratively structured six-page memos. We silently read one at the beginning of each meeting in a kind of “study hall.” Not surprisingly, the quality of these memos varies widely. Some have the clarity of angels singing. They are brilliant and thoughtful and set up the meeting for high-quality discussion. Sometimes they come in at the other end of the spectrum.
In the handstand example, it’s pretty straightforward to recognize high standards. It wouldn’t be difficult to lay out in detail the requirements of a well-executed handstand, and then you’re either doing it or you’re not. The writing example is very different. The difference between a great memo and an average one is much squishier. It would be extremely hard to write down the detailed requirements that make up a great memo. Nevertheless, I find that much of the time, readers react to great memos very similarly. They know it when they see it. The standard is there, and it is real, even if it’s not easily describable.
Here’s what we’ve figured out. Often, when a memo isn’t great, it’s not the writer’s inability to recognize the high standard, but instead a wrong expectation on scope: they mistakenly believe a high-standards, six-page memo can be written in one or two days or even a few hours, when really it might take a week or more! They’re trying to perfect a handstand in just two weeks, and we’re not coaching them right. The great memos are written and re-written, shared with colleagues who are asked to improve the work, set aside for a couple of days, and then edited again with a fresh mind. They simply can’t be done in a day or two. The key point here is that you can improve results through the simple act of teaching scope – that a great memo probably should take a week or more.
(As a side note, by tradition at Amazon, authors’ names never appear on the memos – the memo is from the whole team.)
This is why I love this section:
I think careful preparation for meetings also reduces the number of meetings.
And it eliminates agenda-less meetings. The memo is the agenda.
Preparing a written memo for every meeting allows the best ideas to emerge.
The way Amazon has implemented this, carefully thought out ideas can prevail over the loudest ideas.
A well-written memo can say A LOT with few words. Maybe even more effective than speaking in some cases.
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iPhone has an option to disable display colors. This makes everything (all apps) gray white or black. Addicting apps become much less visually stimulating as a result. The downside is using some apps becomes difficult. For example Yelp ratings are hard to distinguish because the two-toned red squares blend together. Gogray.today is working on a solution which excludes chosen apps from the color filter.
The iPhone setting is found in Settings > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Color Filters
Restrict Web Sites
If you are unhappy with how much time you spend on a given website, you can restrict it and break the habit. The restrictions work for Safari, and Chrome apps. You won’t be able to browse to the site unless you go and remove the restriction.
Go to Settings > General > Restrictions > Allowed Content > Websites > Never Allow > Add a Website…
If you restricted a website that also has its own app (e.g. all popular social media platforms) you will want to remove the apps to break the habits of checking those.
Recently I deleted my email client app. I had a bad habit of checking my inbox immediately after waking up and dozens of times throughout the day. I might be a little out of date on discussions, but I still have calendar access. So far so good!
Don’t Sleep Near Your Phone
Leave your phone in another room when you go to bed. This way you aren’t tempted to pick it up when waking up in the middle of the night or the morning. Use a watch or alarm clock if you need one.
Put a timer on your WiFi
If you have a habit going to bed late because of the internet, use a timer. You can get a $5-$10 electrical outlet timer from a hardware store. These can we set up to turn off the power for set intervals. Set it to power down your internet modem/access point upon your sleep deadline. It will keep you in check even if you really want to keep binging Netflix. And set it to power on a little bit after you wake up and start the day. This way you can get quality sleep and start the day on the right foot.
Wear a watch to keep track of time
It’s amazing how many times per day we busy people check the time.Simply wear a watch so you don’t have to always have your phone in your pocket. This way you can stay on schedule even when unplugging for a while.
Turn off app notifications
By default, most apps want (in every possible way) to notify us and get our attention. Always start with saying no. Then, add in minimal notifications for the apps you care about. iPhone has different types of notifications, too. Badges, sounds, banners. A nice minimal set up is to only allow notifications in history. This setting will not allow distracting pop-ups. Experiment to find what works best for you.
Do Something Else First
It’s tempting to grab your phone first thing in the morning. Try not to do this because it starts your day off poorly, it clutters your mind. Do the rest of your routine first, your emails and other stuff can wait.
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