How to Spend More Time Working on Things That Matter

It gets so frustrating when my day ends up getting clogged with meetings, emails, and instant messages.  A few days in a row of this and at the end of the week, I have no real work to show.  I haven’t contributed anything to the organization, learned anything new, or made progress on the projects that I’m excited about.

A few months of this, and it starts to feel like I’m never going to get any work done.  Not only that, someone’s gotta eventually notice that I’m not doing any actual work right?  If only I didn’t have to answer all these e-mails and attend all these meetings.

Thankfully for us, distractions have always been an issue for knowledge workers.  Many wonderful people have tried various productivity systems, here are a few that I find useful.

Eisenhower Method

What is important is seldom urgent and what is urgent is seldom important. — Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States

Consider the urgent and important tasks, the ones where if you decide you’re going to put off for another 24 hours, you’re going to get fired, or your customer is leaving you.  In a fairly strong organization, this should happen infrequently, less than once a week or month.  These are your first tasks.

Outside of that, work on the important and not urgent.  Work on the things that will push you forward in your growth and development and the project that gives you the best opportunities.  In Eisenhower’s words, these are the ones that are seldom urgent.

Where this matrix falls though, are the things that are not very important, but are things that just needs to get done. What happens when those things get pushed down the priority list, is that work that needs to get done slips through the cracks, gets delayed, and people are waiting for it.  This isn’t good for the organization, and therefore, not good for you me either.

So while it’s important to focus on the growth and development opportunities, tempering it with tasks that need to get done using the next method works well.

Eat the Frog

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day” — Mark Twain

I’ve found this method to be quite helpful.  The full method is fairly self explanatory through this beautiful matrix I drew in my free Paint app.

Where this method differs, is that stuff that are not important, but have to get done, are the things that go first.  Rip the bandaid, get it over with.  It’s kind of like, do your homework right when you get home, and you can play and do whatever you want afterwards.

Where this matrix falls through, is that your time can end up getting entirely consumed by tasks that you don’t want to do, or the ones that don’t provide the growth opportunity for you.  This isn’t good for your own fulfillment, effectiveness, or your career.

Where does this leave us?

Energy Based Prioritization

There are some days where you have more energy than others.

Your best days, where you got a great sleep, you are focused, you woke up knowing your why and your purpose, these are the inspiring days that don’t come often enough.  These days, choose the Eisenhower Method.  Asides from the emergencies, work on the things you want to do!  It creates the synergy of knowing what you want to do, why you want to do it, and having the mental resources to work on it.

On the other days, when you have a backlog of things that have to be done that you don’t want to do (and there is always a backlog), work on those things.  Get through it as much as you can, get through the day, and just eat the live frogs so you can get to work on the things you want to do.

Nurse Bryan’s Rule for Leadership

Isn’t it easy to believe that leadership looks like some variation of Major Payne?  Muscling your way by simply telling others what to do.  Ordering others around, acting like you know what’s best.  Focusing on activities and outcomes.

Leadership is about having followers.  Having followers doesn’t require a position or a title.  Leaders are the ones who are brave enough to step up, and lead with energy, enthusiasm, and living out core values that inspire others to bring the best out of themselves.

“A new hospital administrator, holding his first staff meeting, thought that a rather difficult matter had been settled to everyone’s satisfaction, when one of the participants suddenly asked: ‘Would this have satisfied Nurse Bryan?’  At once the argument started all over and did not subside until a new and much more ambitious solution to the problem had been hammered out.

Nurse Bryan, the Administrator learned, had been a long serving nurse at the hospital.  She was not particularly distinguished, had not, in fact, ever been a supervisor.  But whenever a decision on patient care came up on her flood, Nurse Bryan would ask, ‘are we doing the best we cand o to help this patient?’  Gradually over the years, the whole hospital had learned to adopt what came to be known as “Nurse Bryan’s rule’, had learned in other words, to ask: ‘Are we really making the best contribution to the purpose of this hospital?'”

Step up and do what others aren’t willing to do.  Step up and do what makes everyone else uncomfortable. Stick up for what is right.  Challenge yourself and lead by example.  When you are willing to go that extra mile for the organization, for your colleague, for the customer, to do what is right, is when you energize others to do the same.

Excerpt from The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker


The Outer Scorecard vs The Inner Scorecard

“The big question about how people behave is whether they’ve got an Inner Scorecard or Outer Scorecard.”  — Warren Buffett

When you’ve got the Outer Scorecard, you are at the mercy of perceptions outside of your control.  How can I suck up to the boss?  Does anyone above me notice that I’m putting in extra hours?  How does my appearance look?  Do I look like I’m successful and have made it?  Have I got enough Likes on my Instagram; otherwise I need to take it down.  I have to buy a new car, not a used one, or what will people think of me?  If I buy a home, will my family be proud of me?  My children are acting crazy, people must think I’m a bad parent!

When you’ve got the Inner Scorecard, your dialogue with yourself can be … Did I put in all my effort into this project?  Am I improving, or just going through the motions.  If I was the customer, would I be happy to receive this product/service?  Am I being courageous, or playing it safe?  Am I contributing to others?  Am I selfless, in order to help others?  Does my wife/husband, children, dog respect me?

“I say ‘Lookit.  Would you rather be the world’s greatest lover, but have everyone think you’re the world’s worst lover?  Or would you rather be the world’s worst lover but have everyone think you’re the world’s greatest lover?'” — Warren Buffett
When you’ve got an Inner Scorecard, it’s all on you to judge yourself, and be satisfied yourself.  That seems like a lot of pressure, but it’s freeing.  You have 100% control of your perceptions of yourself.

The Parable of the Genie, the Car, and the Greatest Asset of All

An excerpt from Chapter 53 of The Snowball by Alice Schroeder, a biography of Warren Buffet.

“Let’s say that when I was 16, a genie had appeared to me.  And that genie said ‘Warren, I’m going to give you the car of your choice.  It’ll be here tomorrow morning, with a big bow tied on it.  Brand-new.  And it’s all yours.’

Having heard all the genie stories I would say, ‘Whats the catch?’ And the genie would answer, ‘There’s only one catch.  This is the last car you’re ever going to get in your life.  So it’s got to last a lifetime.’

If that happened, I would have picked out a car.  But can you imagine, knowing it had to last a lifetime, what I would do with it?

I would read the manual five times.  I would always keep it garaged.  If there was the least little dent or scratch, I’d have it fixed right away because I wouldn’t want it rusting.  I would baby that car, because it would have to last a lifetime.

That’s exactly the position you are in concerning your body and mind.  You only get one mind and body.  And it’s got to last a lifetime.  Now it’s very easy to let them ride for many years.  But if you don’t take care of that mind and that body, they’ll be a wreck 40 years later, just like the car would be.
It’s what you do right now, today, that determines how your mind will operate ten, twenty, and thirty years from now.”

Leadership Lessons From One of the GOAT

Greatest of all time that is.

Bill Walsh joined the San Francisco 49ers in 1979, taking over the worst team in the league.   In his third season as head coach, he turned the worst team, and won the Super Bowl, a first of it’s kind turn around in the NFL.  Bill Walsh went on to win three more Super Bowl’s in his career, and revolutionalized the NFL with the West Coast Offence.

We are lucky, that before he passed away, he chose to write about his leadership principles and how he was able to turn around an entire organization, from the secretarial staff, to coaches, players, and physio staff.  How to manage NFL players, some of the most egotistical people.  How to set a standard of performance and work ethic, that leads to the highest performance.

“Everybody’s got an opinion.  Leaders are paid to make decisions.  The difference between offering an opinion and making a decision is the difference between working for the leader and being the leader.”

Standard of Performance

Walsh is known for his Standard of Performance, setting the bar to be the best in performance, while maintaining the right attitudes.  It is as follows …

“Exhibit a ferocious and intelligently applied work ethic directed at continual improvement; demonstrate respect for each person in the organization and the work he or she does; be deeply committed to learning and teaching, which means increasing my own expertise; be fair; demonstrate character; honor the direct connection between details and improvement, and relentlessly seek the latter; show self-control, especially where it counts the most — under pressure; demonstrate and prize loyalty; use positive language and have a positive attitude; take pride in my effort as an entity separate from the result of that effort; be willing to go the extra distance for the organization; deal appropriately with victory and defeat, adulation and humiliation (don’t get crazy with victory nor dysfunctional with loss); promote internal communication that is both open and substantive (especially under stress); seek poise in myself and those I lead; put the team’s welfare and priorities ahead of my own; maintain an ongoing level of concentration and focus that is abnormally high; and make sacrifice and commitment the organization’s trademark.”

Walsh has many facets around his philosophy of coaching, management, and leadership, however this is his cornerstone statement.  All activities and attitudes point back to this statement.  Regardless of how much you agree with his standards, Walsh highlights that it is of prime importance of a high performing organization to have high standards.

“The culture precedes positive results.  Champions behave like champions before they are champions.”

Sustained success does not happen by accident.  It always leaves breadcrumbs to follow.  So let’s dig further into his philosophy.

“I directed our focus less to the prize of victory than to the process of improving — obsessing, perhaps, about the quality of our execution and the content of our thinking, that is, our actions and attitude.”

Work Ethic

“For me, the starting point for everything […] is the work ethic. Without one of significant magnitude you’re dead in the water, finished.”

Walsh was known for his fierce work ethic.  In practices, he narrowed down to the quarter of a yard where a receiver should be and turn around to expect a pass.  During practice, if a receiver stepped a quarter of a yard out of position from where he was supposed to receive the ball, even if he received it, he would stop and call the play and demand the receiver to do it again until he got it right.  His discipline for the right execution of plays is what would lead his team in high pressure situations, to be able to perform their plays like clockwork.

Quarterbacks were taught the three step, five step, seven step back, how to throw the ball, when to throw it, how to hold the ball, and practice throwing at different distances, velocities, trajectories, and angles.  Linemen were taught specific key moves, foot movement, foot positioning, arm movements, and multiple drills were designed to practice each one of these. Practices were organized and scheduled down to the minute.

Walsh had raised the bar for his team, to practice their faces off, to go further than what other teams were willing, in order to have the most well practiced execution, with the right strategy, and people who were taught exactly how they should do what they need to do at the highest level.

“Most of the [leadership] theories seem to take monumental work ethic for granted, as if it is assumed or something, as if people automatically know what it is and do it.  I didn’t assume it.  The majority of people out there don’t know what it is.”

Making Good Decisions and Planning

Outside of the time Walsh spent on practices, tape, games, travel, he was planning strategy and execution.  He would plan for several scenarios under several circumstances, running what-if and scenario analysis so that he would be prepared for almost anything.

“If I’d done my work properly, little would arise that hadn’t been anticipated.  There’s always something you can’t anticipate, but you strive to greatly reduce the number of those unforeseeables.”

Walsh would also script the beginning of the game.  Not only would the first number of downs be planned, but every game he was known for planning out the first 25-30 plays that the offence would run.  His players came to expect this and looked forward to hearing the script of the game.  This allowed players to visualize and pre-meditate on the execution of the beginning plays to set the right tempo for the game.  Proper execution of the script would lead to a quick lead at the beginning of the game.

It also gave the team a sense of calm.  In an environment where tens of thousands of the opposing team’s fans are screaming at you, in howling wind and freezing weather, these environments and contexts are not conducive to the best decision making.  Making decisions on the fly in high pressure situations, does not produce the best decisions.  Scripts and contingency planning would assure that the decisions were made ahead of time, in better environments when emotions and distractions were controlled.

“What is the width and depth of the intellect you have applied to your own team’s contingency planning?  What could happen tomorrow, next week, next year that you haven’t planned for, aren’t ready to deal with, or have put in the category of “I’ll worry about that when the time comes”?

“Great organization is the trademark of a great organization.”

Managing Personell

At this point, it is no surprise that Walsh has a lot to say and think about regarding employees of your organizing. On setting his standard and letting it permeate through the organization:

“Bonding within the organization takes place as one individual and then another steps up and raises his or her level of commitment, sacrifice, and performance.  They demand and expect a lot of one another.”
“Employees can thrive in an environment when they know exactly what is expected of them — even when those expectations are very high.”
“Place a premium on those who exhibit great desire to keep pushing themselves to higher and higher performance and production levels, who seek to go beyond the highest standards that you the leader set.  The employee who gets to work early, stays late, fights through illness and personal problems is the one to keep your eye on for greater responsibilities.”

Reading Walsh’s book, The Score Takes Care of Itself, was a difficult read. It brought out insecurities of mine and I would ignore or disagree with many of his writings.  However, through reflection, it is the work ethic and discipline of a great man, who pushed it outside of the limits of my own thinking, that I realized that I am miles away from one of the greatest coaches of all time.  So what now?

“It takes time to develop the Standard of Performance; it is not just a seminar or a practice or a season’s worth of seminars and practices, but thoughtful and intense attention over years and years.”

22 Books I Read in 2016

As 2016 comes to an end, I am taking stock of all that I’ve read and learned this year.  It really does seem like last December was just around the corner as I was planning on what books I would read this year.  Not everything I actually got to, but I am really proud of how much I did actually get to read.

Below are a list of books, in a rough order of when I read them.  I’ve marked a asterisk (*) symbol beside the books that were my favorite reads of the year and I will carry lessons that I learned from them for the rest of my life, and that I would recommend others to read.  Also the title of the book may have a link to my book notes that I’ve posted on my blog if you are interested in knowing more.

Mindset by Carol Dweck *

Mindset is based on a thesis that people, in different forms and areas of their life, approach life with a fixed mindset vs a growth mindset.  This book has been extremely popular and has been blowing up all over within the business field, education, parenting, and I would imagine sports as well. Many influencers recommend it, including being on Bill Gates’ reading list.

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday *

This book’s central tenet is that “The impediment to action advances action, what stands in the way, is the way”, a quote from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius.  This book was my introduction into the school of philosophy called Stoicism.  This philosophy also has been blowing up all over, particularly in the start up world as well as making rounds throughout the NFL.  I just about highlighted a passage from every single chapter.  Stoicism isn’t a boring philosophy, they were interested in pragmatic and practical strategies in living a good life.  If you’ve started to hear about Stoicism or have read about how this ancient philosophy relates to modern life, I would highly recommend this book.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl *

An absolute classic of a book that has stood the test of time, and is recommended on so many people’s recommended book list.  Man searches for meaning, but perhaps it is in fact that life is asking man what meaning to give to one’s life.  A good place to start when asking yourself what you want out of life, or what you want to do with the life you’ve been given.

Frankl was a psychologist that lived through the horrors of concentration camps, losing his entire family, and came out with a sense of purpose in his life, by writing this book.  He observed that those who were most likely to live through life in concentration camps, were ones that had assigned meaning or purpose to their life. Whether it was writing a book, completing their work, or living for a loved one.

Also it goes into great description of what it was like to live in a concentration camp.  Definitely an eye opener. I was touched so much and it grew a yearning inside of me to learn more about WW2, that I arranged a trip to Berlin, Germany in 2017.

No art is original, all art is stolen. Many artists have been influenced by Michael Jackson, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton.  Every great artist has been influenced by the past, and build on what was created, but give their own uniqueness to it.  So there is no need to feel like you are copying someone else’s art.  You should be copying someone else’s art, it is the only path to original art.

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

You can’t find your voice unless you use it. Artists don’t develop in a vacuum, they are developed with other artists.  Share your work, so you leave a trail for people to find you.  If you ever wanted to have an online presence of a body of work, I recommend getting this book.  Only takes an hour or so to read.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

I’m glad that I took the chance to re-read this classic book.  Nice to read some children’s fiction every once in awhile.

The Score Takes Care of Itself by Bill Walsh

Bill Walsh was the coach of the 49ers, that was the first coach to take a last place team and turn it around to a championship team within 2 years, and create a dynasty and changed the way the game was played with his West Coast Offence.  His central theme is his standard of performance, how he expected his entire organization to take their job seriously and do everything with excellence.  I did not enjoy this book very much, however I must admit that their are lots of hard lessons that I may be trying to avoid.

Tartine by Chad Robertson

This book is the bible on home sourdough bread baking.  I never got around to creating my own sourdough starter (however I attempted once and failed), but I grew a huge appreciation for bread and how it’s made. The book is filled with bread recipes as well as what to do with the bread.  It goes through a history of bread through the ages and it’s origins, and is wonderfully written.  I salivate now thinking about the stories of Chad’s time in France as he learned to bake bread all day, and ate raclettes, bread, and local rose every night.  An excellent read.
If you are interested in baking your own bread, a very easy access point is Jim Lahey’s video for a no knead recipe.

The Elements of Pizza by Ken Forkish

I liked what my friend said recently as he was also embarking on learning to create his own pizza, it’s a life skill that you can use for the rest of your life.  I’ve probably made 20-30 pizzas this year after reading this book.  It’s a highly accessible place to learn how to make your own pizza dough and learn about the different styles of pizza around the world. Worth it to know the difference between a traditional Neapolitan pizza vs an American pizza (and even the differences between a NY slice, West Coast, New-Haven, Chicago, St.Louis).  I could go on …

Linchpin by Seth Godin *

The workplace is changing at an unprecedented pace.  What we learned from our parents and teachers no longer apply.  If you’ve ever been worried about your future job security, I would recommend reading this.  In a world where organizations are applying rules and standards to their employees, and when services are being automated, what the world will hunger for is true authenticity and human touch.  That is something that will always be in demand, and a skill that will always be rare in the workplace.

Vagabonding by Rolf Potts

There is a certain template that most of us live.  Work ~50 weeks of the year, and take the rest travelling, dashing between 2-4 cities per year.  But what if this template was flipped on it’s head.  What does it mean to travel well? Is travel very expensive?  If you want to become a better traveller, of start forming your philosophies on travel, this could be a place to start.

Deep Work by Cal Newport

We are in the age of distraction, and a skill that is becoming more rare, while becoming more essential to the knowledge worker, is the skill of deep focus and doing deep work.  The type of work that can’t be automated or systemized, that requires creativity and thought and deep problem solving, requires the ability to work deeply.  Cal Newport shares why this is such a problem, why it’s so necessary, and strategies to deploy in your own work life.  I should mention, Cal Newport is a full time professor, with a kid, publishes research papers, runs a blog, and has time to write books.  If you want to see in detail how productive people work, you may consider listening to this guy.

Home Game: An Accidental Guide to Fatherhood by Michael Lewis

Arguably, some of the hardest times I’ve laughed this year (not just in reading, but in general), has come from reading this book.  If you are a parent or interested in parenting life, this book has a ton of funny stories that I am sure are very relatable.  You may know Michael Lewis as the author of such books turned movies as The Big Short, Moneyball, and The Blind Side.  Michael is a fantastic writer, and this is the first book I’ve read from him.

Deskbound by Kelly Starrett and Glen Cordoza

We live in a sitting world.  It’s a bit scary to consider that it’s possible to not do any significant walking, say, more than a few minutes from the parking lot to the office everyday.  Or to consider that many people’s most significant movement is only once or twice a week to the grocery store.  Our bodies have not been able to catch up in evolution to deal with all the sitting that we do. Sitting can wreak havoc on our bodies, by putting us in unnatural positions, shortening the length of muscles and tendons, reducing blood flow, dropping our metabolism, and slowly reducing functionality of our muscles.  Sitting and position is a skill that is completely lost in our age because of the sedentary lives that we live.  Over a lifetime, all this bad positioning can lead to heart disease, injuries, loss of productivity, and suboptimal overall performance.  I certainly don’t want to be held back in my 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, 100s, because I did not maintain the one opportunity at a healthy body that I got in this life.  Learn proper sitting, standing, and walking positions, and overall maintenance of your body.

Microadventures by Alistair Humphreys

In our world of internet, highways, netflix, and offices, our culture has lost a sense of adventure.  Often we dream about a time when we can just quit our job, hit the road, and follow wherever the journey takes us, a great adventure.  However that is impractical, or not necessarily something we want to do for those with a career, family, or any number of reasons that hold us back from a great adventure.  Humphreys challenges the reader with practical ways to get away and take on “microadventures” that can be done on a weeknight, or over a weekend.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalinithi *

A beautifully written memoir, that is arguably one of the best books of the year across all genres.  If you want to read something that will touch you, read it.  If you want to read something that is well written, read it.  If you ponder the meaning of life, read it.  I thirst for another book written as well and is as touching as this. Also an easy read, ~3 hours.

Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

Like most popular young adult series, this was highly addictive.  I think I read the whole series in 4-5 weeks.

Customer Success by Mehta, Steinman, Murphy

In this age of subscription based businesses, often the revenues of a subscription does not cover the cost of acquisition even after several years.  What this requires is a new paradigm so that a customer continues to renew or upgrade in order to become profitable.  Long term retention, reducing cancellations, upsells, adding value, and making the customer successful are necessary to compete in the world of SaaS these days.  If you work in the SaaS or start-up space, particularly the first 3 chapters were written very well explaining the state of SaaS companies now.  The 10 Laws of Customer Success weren’t written quite as well. I believe that this space is still quite immature and needs time to mature to really define what it is and isn’t.

The Snowball: Warren Buffet and the Business of Life by Amy Schroeder *

This is the first biography I’ve read since I was very little, and I am so glad that I picked it up.  Warren Buffett has always been a hero of mine, and lives a really interesting life.  His behavior and approach to both life and business has a lot of teachings to learn from.  Another book that I have tons of earmarks and highlights on.

As an aside, biographies are awesome!  I went in expecting to get some lessons, but I quickly found that I could get to know who Buffet is, and actually look up to him as a hero and mentor.  I am definitely going to look out for more biographies to read from now on.

Tools of the Titans by Tim Ferriss

To anyone who is a listener of his podcast, I would say this is a must-purchase.  Anyone who doesn’t listen to his podcast, I can’t see it as having near the same value.  The book is written as notes and excerpts from his podcasts, and highlight 5-10% of each interview.  It has been great for me as I’ve listened to 30+ of his podcasts.  However, regardless, I pretty much read, watch, and listen to every thing single thing that Tim Ferriss produces.

There are a few additional books that I read this year that were not interesting, or I have chosen not to share.  However, I am proud to say that I read 25 or so books this year.  Considering I was expecting to only read 6-8, I am really proud of myself, and realize that I have to set the bar much higher!

However, more than anything, it is not the quantity of books that one reads, but the lessons that one learns from them.  I can say that I certainly am not the same at the beginning of 2017, then I was at the beginning of 2016, and my life is richer because of the books I’ve read.

Giving Money as Part of a Rich Life

Over the 12 months I have been giving thought towards lifestyle optimization, and how charity and donation are a vital part of a meaningful and purposeful life.  I was introduced to the giving movement of Effective Altruism, which is a philosophy in giving to the charities that are most effective at making impact in the world.  This concept immediately captured my attention, as it would seem to be the most productive way towards building a better world.  Charities that fit in this category at the time of this writing fall into categories such as giving malaria nets, mass deworming medication for parasites, access to clean water, and other such causes.

In my journey of giving this past year, I’ve found four things that I’ve experimented with and experienced, some to greater success than others, that are new and quite profound in my life.  It’s my joy to share these with the world and I hope you gain something out of it!

Giving Builds a Meaningful Career

I’ve read lots around “waking up with a purpose”, or “tap dancing to work”, and “do what you love” as mantras and philosophies around choosing work and a career that you love and is meaningful.  However I have not found this to be very practical advice, for a variety of reasons. So maybe rather than looking towards yourself for the source of enjoyable work, you can look at others.

Rather than looking at loving work, maybe we can look at it from a perspective of meaningful work.  In fact, it seems as though parents don’t love the job of parenting, but it is deeply meaningful.  Perhaps the prospect of going to a far away land with the chance of dying from gunshots or mines doesn’t sound pleasant to you or I, but thousands of people enlist in the army to fight for their country.

I’ve been able to begin to transform my mind to see it as meaningful work.  Not because of the work itself, but because of the output that I gain.  You see, I am reasonably skilled in business, I have good commercial ideas and I have the ability to execute which the market rewards me financially for.  I also think that I am only in the beginnings of my career earnings potential.  So as I put in the practice of giving to charities as a certain percentage of my income, let’s use the number 5%, then as I grow in my income, the more I am able to give and impact people.  So I know that it is the direct fruits of my labor as I go to work, that I am making an impact in someone else’s life.

It actually starts going in the direction of thought, that it is actually my moral obligation to do well, to stay motivated, to do good work, gain and improve my skills, in order to attain a larger pay cheque, in order that I can support my brothers and sisters around the world.

I Write Victories on the Wall

I have a chalkboard that hangs on the wall in the kitchen, and can be seen as soon as I walk into my home, as well as from the living room.  It says “X,XXX PPL AFFECTED”, where X,XXX is the number of people that my giving has affected.  I calculate this using impact calculator, which follows the effective altruism movement and has a selection of organizations that generally fall into the movement.

What the sign does is that it gives me a reminder, everyday, whenever I need it.  When I start my day in the kitchen getting ready for work, I immediately know why my work makes a difference.  I begin to connect my ambitions and financial goals with knowing that my work affects the world, affects people’s livelihood, and that I have the ability to save a life with the decision to work hard and do good work.

I Recognize I am the 1%

Now, not to take away from the Occupy Wall Street movement, but I realize that I am part of the 1% in the world. With hard work, I am at a level of income that I can live comfortably, where I can eat everyday, know that I have a roof over my head at night, know that I have a steady stream of income, and that if anything were to happen I have the experience and know how to create income if my current source runs out.

Knowing that I am the 1% allows me to get the focus on what I don’t have, and focus on being thankful for what I do have.  Obviously in this day in age, it’s so easy to get caught up on feeling like trash about your own life, particularly when seeing some of your old friends’ or classmates’ Instagram profiles.  But even as I live in my basement suite, drive my 2003 CR-V, and wear clothes that I would have laughed at while I was in university, I know that I am unbelievably rich already.

I Make the Decision Once

Success is having a set of good habits.  In the same way that I just make one decision to decide how much to save for long term goals, medium term goals, and short term finances, I make one decision to decide how much money to give.  I make automated monthly contributions to a charity that I have selected that aligns with what I want to give to, and I know makes a huge impact because it is vetted by organizations such as Without consistently giving, none of what I said above will matter or make a difference.  You need to continually give, remind yourself of the difference you are making, remind yourself that you are already rich, and chase the number on your wall and grow it bigger.

Rounding into the new year, maybe it’s a good idea to consider giving a portion of your income to charitable organizations.  If you don’t know which one to give to, check out the effective altruism movement at sites such as or  Or if you’re Canadian, make sure to give through to get a canadian tax receipt. In fact, consistent giving through effective altruism, you will most definitely save a human life through your giving.

Linchpin by Seth Godin

Linchpin – To be a linchpin, is to bring your artistry to your job, to lead others, connect people, to expend emotional labor, to have a super power. 

A day’s wage for a day’s work is a shitty way to spend 80,000 hours of your life. Is that what life has boiled down to?  Just an exchange of the marketplace, companies offering employees money to do some tasks, while employees try to get away with working as little as possible, expending as little energy as possible, for their employer?

There can be more though.  Everyday, in any situation, you have the opportunity to do something remarkable, have job satisfaction, have life satisfaction.  You can choose to be an example, to lead others, connect with people, bring life and humanity to a corporation or marketplace of transactions, be recognized as an artist, make work an adventure, get wrapped up in what you do because you are so dedicated.  You can be a linchpin.  But first, why is it so hard?

How did we end up here?

How did the american dream become “working a stable 9-5, doing safe work, living in a home in he suburbs having to commute 30-60 minutes a day to and from work and daycare, driving a Benz, BBQ’s on weekends and the odd trip here and there”?  How did we get to a place where working for a large public company or recognized name become the defacto of our university graduates?

The Old Model

The old industry of work was about sticking in, following instructions, coloring inside the lines, being told what to say, working without autonomy.  Do what you’re told to do and be rewarded for it.  The more widgets you produce, the more you are rewarded for work. The more effort you put in, the more you are paid.  The old industry still exists.

However the old model is going away.  Effort and physical talent aren’t the required inputs that the economy wants anymore.  If what people are looking for is standardized and predictable, the corporate machine employs robots to do the work.  They own the means of production, and they don’t need you, cause you get tired, you make mistakes, you get sick, you want weekends, and a 3 week vacation.

What We Learned in School

Keep your pencils sharp, write straight along the blue lined paper, learn cursive writing, learn just enough about a subject to attain a grade, and then move on to the next subject. Learn to read and memorize facts, regurgitate them in a limited time under high pressure situations.  Study together, but test alone.  Do homework. Be a generalist, don’t fail.  Don’t risk embarrassing yourself, buy things to fit in, fit into the crowd.

The Resistance

The resistance is what makes you uncomfortable.  It can be quite a good compass for what you are doing too.  The closer you get to being uncomfortable, and the further you push yourself into places that you are uncomfortable, the lizard brain fights even harder, using any tactic.  Lies, flawed logic.  But that’s when you know you are close.  The short cut to mediocre is to be comfortable.  The long way, the only way to significance, is to be uncomfortable.

The lizard brain is the primitive unevolved part of your brain.  It’s concern is safety, socially, economically, as well as physically.  One of the blessings about living in this age now is that we don’t have to be afraid of a sabretooth tiger looking to chew our neck.  The only thing we have to brave is putting ourselves out there, getting over our fears, staring at the blank screen, canvas, or whatever medium, and creating something remarkable.

What your “tribe” or “community” wants, and what the “market” wants, are completely opposite.  What the tribe wants is for people to fit in, that’s how tribes are formed.  When people are alike in values or interests or something else, it forms a loose connection.  When someone falls outside of the defined lines of norms within a tribe, they are neglected, pushed out, they make everyone inside the lines uncomfortable.  But to be remarkable, by definition you cannot be ordinary.  That is when you will hit resistance.  In order to get different results, you have to have a different process.  That process will make others feel uncomfortable.  What the market wants though, is not what is ordinary.  They don’t pay, or watch, or wait in line, or follow what’s just ordinary.  We crave our products, our services, our entertainment, and our experiences, all to be remarkable.  The social resistance must be overcome.

I do not want to spend a lot of time here, and perhaps it’s worthy of a separate conversation.  This is not instructions to be different for the sake of being different.  Don’t garner haters because it won’t cause you to be remarkable.  It is just a symptom of being remarkable.  Being a linchpin doesn’t mean being a lone wolf, or not having close friends.  In fact, it is the complete opposite, as I’ll cover shortly.

Making art in a cubicle

You might object and say “I am not an artist”.  Bullshit.   It is not a paintbrush, a stage, or a camera that makes someone an artist.  Artists are everywhere, you encounter them as baristas, analysts, service workers, and coaches.  It isn’t the piece of work that is created that makes it art.  It is putting a part of yourself in what is created, or the service provided, that makes it art.

I had a memorable experience at a Italian restaurant, where my wife and I sat at the bar in front of the raw station.  This station was where the food was already prepped but just needed to be plated, and where drinks were served. No kitchen experience necessary.  Our “bartender” had an Italian heritage, and explained to us all about the food and the differences in how his grandmother made it to how the restaurant made it.  He explained all the work, the 14 hour days him and the kitchen staff put in to the food that we were eating.  When I asked him about some of the food he was cutting, he would put small samples on a plate and let us taste it.  He told us that he’s not actually a trained cook, but that really he is an actor.

That server, Peter Ciuffa, entertained us for 2.5 hours at his station, not because he was told to do so, or cause he wanted recognition, or wanted a review of his service in an obscure blog, or for a big tip. He entertained us, because that was his art, his salumi station was his stage, we were his audience, and his story was his script.  It was art, because a 20% tip could not possible repay him for the memorable experience.  

What if I don’t know what my passion is?

“In a pre-Internet world, where couldn’t have existed, would Jeff Bezos be a nonpassionate lump?  If Spike Lee hadn’t found a camera, would he be sitting around, accepting the status quo?
Passion isn’t project-specific.  It’s people-specific.  Some people are hooked on passion, deriving their sense of self from the act of being passionate.
Perhaps your challenge isn’t finding a better project or a better boss.  Perhaps you need to get in touch with what it means to feel passionate.  People with passion look for ways to make things happen.
The combination of passion and art is what makes someone a linchpin.”

There is no map

How can you do it?  There aren’t specific instructions, gosh I wish there were.  But being a linchpin, doing art, getting past the resistance, connecting with people, there aren’t a set of instructions, which is what makes it so valuable.  No one can tell you how to unlock your potential.  You have to be the navigator, without a map.

But hey, no one really knows what they’re doing.  Consider what Bre Pettis has to say about doing the work:

Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
Laugh at perfection.  It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
People without dirty hands are wrong.  Doing something makes you right.
Failure counts as done.  So do mistakes.

Leading others

That’s where linchpins come in.  They understand that there is no map, but the work still needs to get done.  Just because there is no map, linchpins know it’s not an excuse for waiting for the instructions.  So linchpins soldier on, they’re the ones that jump in on the front lines, and jump headfirst into the trenches.  They move forward regardless if anyone follows.  That is the exact reason, that people follow.  Cause you don’t need instructions to move forward.  The circumstances are the same between linchpins and others, there is no map or instructions.  The only difference is linchpins will map it out, and charter the unknown.

The culture of art, gifts, and connections

A gift, inherently, is something that you do not pay back.  Gifts between friends or family on holidays or occasions are rarely real gifts.  There is an expectation.  I’ll buy you a gift, if you buy me a gift.  That’s why when we get older, gifts get phased out of our social circles, they become dry and boring.  My family dreads the secret Santa family exchange of presents because there are so many rules around it.  You are required to buy something.  You cannot go over the $ limit. If you go over, you are cheating and making everyone feel guilty. If you go under, you are cheap and are not thoughtful.

Real gifts are the thoughtful ones.  When I surprise my wife or my friend with something, just cause I was thinking of them, and thought they would like it.  When your parents bought you gifts as a child, they did it for the joy of giving to you, for the priceless face you make when you open it.  There is no possible way you could’ve repaid your parents for that, and that’s what made it a gift.  The joy however is not only for the gift receiver, but the gift giver as well.

Real art is a gift to someone.  You get the opportunity to make a connection and change someone.  The more people you change, the more effective your art is.   Through your gift, connections are made between you and the receiver, as well as between the receivers.

Giving a smile, connecting with people, being generous, these are things that we do for free all our lives, but when it comes to work many of us feel that we aren’t paid for that.  This creates a tension where we aren’t able to do what brings us joy into our work.  Bring your gift to work, so that you can receive that joy more, be yourself more, be more human.

Being a Human

This is what it boils down to, being a remarkable human being.  Life was not meant to be lived with a map.  Life wasn’t meant to just follow instructions only.  It’s about connecting people, leading others, giving gifts, and giving yourself and being yourself as a gift to the world.  When we follow everyone else’s rules, guidelines, paths, we’re only doing what can be done.  But be someone different, giving something different, because only you can give your unique art.

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

Feeling overwhelmed, pressured, rushed, my client had demanded that the task be completed straight away, while jabbing comments about it maybe being a mistake they chose my company for their services.  The task was complex and quite unorthodox to be dealt with so quickly.  That’s when I was reminded that this situation in front of me, was my obstacle.  I was at the beginning, I had no choice but get to the end, and this dataset to be created was preventing me from passing.  I began to break each of the tasks into smaller pieces, looking at them without the narrative of being “complex”, rather breaking them smaller and smaller until they were simple.  Just a bit after 5pm, I sent the e-mail to the client that I had completed the task.

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” — Marcus Aurelius

Ryan Holiday takes the ancient wisdom of Stoicism to write the book The Obstacle is the Way, a practical philosophy to approaching life.  As you may guess from the title of the book, it is about turning what the world sees as obstacles, as the path that you should take.  The example mentioned above is just one of the many times I have referenced to this very draft of this article to get perspective of my difficult situations.

The strategies and philosophy Ryan shares with us can have massive consequences in your life.  For every single one of us, life is gonna throw us shit.  No one has it honky dory — no matter what your Instagram feed looks like.  You have heard it many times, those who are at the top always talk about the obstacles and failures they had to overcome to get there.  The key is that they overcame them.

“That thing you dread or secret thing you don’t want to happen, what if it wasn’t so bad?  What if inside it or embedded in it is or inherent in it was certain benefits.  Benefits only for you.  What would you do?  Probably what most people do, nothing.”

The book is broken into three parts, 1) Perception, 2) Action, 3) Will.

“Objective judgment, now at this very moment.
Unselfish action, now at this very moment.
Willing acceptance—now at this very moment—of all external events.
That’s all you need.


In this first section, we learn that there is the obstacle and then there is how we think about it, they are separate. Our perceptions create our reality, it is not what happens that affects us, but the narrative and the context that is around what happens that does.  Often the obstacle does not really exist, but merely our thoughts and feelings that we bring to the situation that creates the obstacle.  How much does hate, fear, anxiety, paralyze us? What we must realize is that “Nothing makes us feel this way; we choose to give in to such feelings.”

What we need to do is steady our nerve, stay in control of your emotions.  Yes the obstacles and feelings are overwhelming, so it is with Kobe Bryant when the clock is running down and he’s got to make a shot over two defenders.  But when you are able to steady your nerve, “then nothing really did “happen”—our perception [makes] sure [it’s] nothing of consequence.”

“The observing eye sees events, clear of distractions, exaggerations, and misperceptions. The perceiving eye sees “insurmountable obstacles” or “major setbacks” or even just “issues.” It brings its own issues to the fight. The former is helpful, the latter is not.” — Miyamoto Musashi

We need to recognize what happens as what they actually are.  There are many ways to look at a situation productively, often some tactics are better than others.

Is it in your control?  Can you even do anything about it?  If not, then carry on.  Should what you’re going through be a surprise?  Is the world out to get you, or is it a natural resistance that would face anyone on your journey?  If it is, face it bravely as if the obstacle has been fated to your path.   Is it possible to defeat this obstacle for someone else?  If yes, then why not you?

On the other side of it, you will be rewarded with lessons learned, a stronger will, and confidence from experience. This holds one of the most important keys to your perception, where it’s not about what you see as the obstacle, but what you stand to gain on the other side of the obstacle. Obstacles are opportunities for you to grow, to achieve, to better yourself.

“The struggle against an obstacle inevitably propels the fighter to a new level of functioning. The extent of the struggle determines the extent of the growth. The obstacle is an advantage, not adversity. The enemy is any perception that prevents us from seeing this.”


In this section, we learn that not any action will do.  Controlled, well thought out, calm, creative action is the necessary types to conquer what stands in the way.  Often rather than fighting with a strategy, we relentlessly start swinging for the ropes.  This is what separates the Hollyfields from the backyard brawlers.

“Action is commonplace, right action is not. As a discipline, it’s not any kind of action that will do, but directed action.”

The perfect time for action is now.  Are the circumstances desirable?  They never are, for any of us.  People have gotten over way more than you and I, come from behind and had way bigger obstacles.  Racial discrimination, sickness, poverty, homelessness, illiteracy.  Yet they didn’t waste time in waiting for the perfect opportunity to come up, those don’t exist.  The perfect opportunities come to those who put in the work.  So just start, every accomplishment has the first step in common — the first step.

When you got the ball rolling, you’ve got to keep at it, cause The Dip and The Resistance are coming for you.  But a dogged determination is what is going to get you through it. Be persistent. Repeat the process, keep trying, test new theories, poke different spots and attack different angles.  Sometimes there won’t be much of a strategy behind it, except doing it one at a time.  Sounds simple, but it’s not easy.

“Edison, was not the only one at the time trying to invent a light bulb.  However Edison was the only one who was willing to test six thousand different types of filaments until he found the right one.”

While you are trying, practicing, applying, moving, executing, always gather feedback.  Remember, creativity and strategy are necessary.  We are not just trying the same method over and over and hoping for a different outcome.  We will try, see what happens, and then form a new hypothesis and try something different.  The strategy will come, and it will change, and evolve.  Tech startups have the concept of the MVP, minimum viable product.  They put out their product with minimal features, push it to a group of small customers and then listen and observe.  They can quickly push out new features and see how the customers react.  This allows them to iterate, remain flexible, and be agile.

Now that you have calmed your nerves, controlled your emotions, and can see the obstacle objectively, you will be able to see the situation for what it is.  Most obstacles you will come across, will only have a handful of variables to act against. Strategize your countermoves.

“Remember the first time you saw a complicated algebra equation? It was a jumble of symbols and unknowns. But then you stopped, took a deep breath, and broke it down. You isolated the variables, solved for them, and all that was left was the answer.”

After all is said and done, you have to be prepared that your actions come up empty.  You can think clearly, have dogged determination and execute, but sometimes it won’t be enough.  Perception and action is within your control, the rest of the world is not.  This is not failure, you are still able to turn the obstacle into an advantage.

“… simply by using it as an opportunity to practice some other virtue or skill—even if it is just learning to accept that bad things happen, or practicing humility.  It’s an infinitely elastic formula: In every situation, that which blocks our path actually presents a new path with a new part of us.”


The will is what’s left after perception and action.  External circumstances will influence my perceptions and my actions, but the will is the foundation which stands, or falls.  You choose the strength of your foundation, by choosing to build it up.  The will is forged by overcoming obstacles, and making conscious choices to be work it, no one is born with it.

A three step process for dealing with each obstacle and situation and strengthening your will is to i) Think Negatively, ii) Art of Acquiescence, and iii) Amor Fati.

“Nothing happens to the wise man against his expectation.” — Seneca

To think negatively is to anticipate the worst situations that could come.  You should not be caught off guard when life hands you shit.  Things will always go wrong, but if this comes as a surprise each and every time you are going to be set up for failure.  Set yourself up for success, by premeditating on potential obstacles.   For your current situation, be an optimist.  But when it comes to the future, be a pessimist, so that you are prepared for the worst of circumstances, so you are prepared with strategies in place to deal with them.

Accept whatever circumstances, and whatever troubles may come.  In whatever situation, no matter how bad it might get, these are all external circumstances.  Do not complain about it being hard for you, or talk about the way that it should be or should’ve happened.  You need to clear your mind, by accepting it.  Leave the negative thoughts behind, and focus on what you actually need to do.

After you’ve anticipated the obstacles and aren’t surprised by them, and have accepted them, the next level is to love it.  If an obstacle arises, it was meant to be there for you.  It may just be good that you have accepted it, but to love it is to fully embrace it and respect the obstacle for what it is, and what’s on the other side of it.  We have to love it because we know what the outcome will be on the other side of it.  We have to love it because it is the only path to greatness.

Start it over

After preparing your perceptions, executing effective actions, and exercising your will, just get ready to do it all over again.

“One does not overcome an obstacle to enter the land of no obstacles.”

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

This is a fantastic small read and it really helped solidify some of the floating ideas I had in my head that never really connected.  I originally had added Show Your Work to my reading list but then also came across this one that seemed really interesting, and was also a NYT best seller.

Austin Kleon is a writer and artist living in Austin, Texas.  He writes an excellent blog.  All around seems like a really cool dude.

This book encourages me to invite influences into my life.  What inspires me and makes me come alive, the heroes that I read about, learn from them, imitate them, and copy them.  Thus when I copy them, I make it my own, and have spun it as a new version.  I suffered from great imposter syndrome before, not believing that any of my ideas were mine, just ones that I’ve stolen from others.  Before I felt guilty, now I wear it proud.  I steal material, and share it as my own.

Stealing …

All artists start off from stealing.  Who do you know who’s done something significant that did not draw inspiration from someone else?  When I started playing guitar, did I start by writing my own music?  Of course not.  You start by practicing and playing your favourite musicians.  All artists have a muse, inspiration, are a part of a community, study the greats in their field.  I’m so encouraged by this cause now I can shamelessly say who my heroes are and take what they’ve laid before me and make it mine.

On the Myth of “Finding Yourself”

You don’t need to start after you “find your voice”.  What a myth!  Why do we feel like we need to make it on our own.  There is no such thing as “original”, all art is a riff off of another art, any worthy art anyways. It is in the process of your artistry, that you begin to find yourself.  So riff, steal, transform, and as you follow the path, you inevitably find yourself, your sweet spot, and can honour those who went before you by pointing towards them for your source of inspiration.

Mentors and Influences

Much has been said about having mentors in your life. I’ve had very few of these relationships, feeling like I’m left behind and that I was doomed for failure because I had no one showing me the way.  However, mentors are freely available.  They leave their words to you in their books, in their music, in their art. I’ve realized, I don’t not have mentors, I’m being mentored by a team of world class people, that I got to draft on my team.  There’s no salary cap for this sport!


It also affirmed that hobbies and side projects are not just for fun, but generate real value.  Hobbies is what you give time to, but nourishes your soul, and in the process you are creating, practicing, working your craft.  It’s the work that you wished you could do all day everyday, but don’t get to because of responsibilities, regular job, etc.  But that is perfectly OK.  When you do things for money, joy is stolen, motivation gets fuzzy, deadlines begin to loom and put pressure.  Not so with hobbies, you aren’t doing it for the financial gain of others, you do it for the pure satisfaction of yourself, and your audience.  You don’t want the pressure of “if I screw this up, I won’t be able to pay the bills.”  You want to do what you enjoy, free of external motivations, just an expression of what’s inside.

“If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, but if you copy from many, it’s research. — Wilson Mizner

  • What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere.  All creative work builds on what came before.  Nothing is completely original.
  • “Everything that needs to be said has already been said.  But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” – Andre Gide
  • You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see.  You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life.  You are the sum of your influences
  • The great thing about dead or remote masters is that they can’t refuse you as an apprentice.  You can learn whatever you want from them.  They left their lesson plans in their work.
  • It’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are.  You’re ready.  Start making stuff.
  • In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes.
  • “The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.” — Jessica Hische
  • “Avoiding work is the best way to focus my mind.” — Maira Kalman
  • A hobby is something creative that’s just for you. You don’t try to make money or famous off it, you just do it because it makes you happy.  A hobby is something that gives but doesn’t take.  No pressure, no plans.  It’s regenerative.  It’s like church.
  • Do good work and share it with people.
  • People love it when you give your secrets away