You Can’t Write All The Time

I’ve started a blog a few times in the past and eventually ran out of steam, sometimes quickly and sometimes over a reasonable period of time. Maybe it was that I didn’t have enough to share, and maybe it was because I felt like an imposter to be contributing to a blog regularly. There is the other factor of finding the time to sit down and write, but I think there is a case for taking a break to consume information so you can form your own thoughts on a topic.

I don’t have a problem with topics for writing on this blog, I have 30 other topics to write on and that list grows faster than I can publish completed posts. Some are born from overheard conversations or the offhand remark with a friend/colleague, and other times it is a conversation I have had so many times before that I want to write my thoughts out in a cohesive way so that when someone asks me in future and I don’t have the energy to contribute but the want to put my point across, I can just say “I wrote an article on this very topic, please read and get back to me”, how bloody obnoxious would that be!

The answer is pretty obnoxious and I hope I don’t come across that way. Frankly I know there is a ton of content being put out daily and my meandering thoughts are hardly going to win me an award. I don’t mind if nobody reads any of this, it’s just a good outlet for me, and if by chance another soul gains something to help shape their own opinions by reading here then I would see that as a bonus.

I haven’t written anything in about a week maybe, I haven’t checked really and that’s ok with me. I don’t want to get hung up on how often I post or how long of a posting streak I can achieve, these are vanity metrics and I have no time for them. I’ve been spending my time reading more lately, I have a few books on the go at the moment and I might go deeper into each as I finish them. Surely You Must Be Joking, Mr. Feynman is nearly complete and I’ve found some relieving insights from a very intelligent man that I can take into my home and work life, I’m particularly enjoying the topics related to students ability to memorise for exams but learn nothing of a subject that can be used in the real world – it’s not what you read, it’s how you read.

I’m also reading American Gods. I know the series is available to binge but I have decided I would rather read the book first because I rate Neil Gaiman as a writer. I’ve watched a few films and then read the books afterwards with varying levels of joy and pain when it came to comparing. I’m not in a rush to consume the information and get my opinion out there, so I settle in for the long road of reading and enjoying the book. I don’t need to write every day, it is a wise approach to listen more than you speak and the same holds true for reading and writing.

If you’re thinking about writing and getting your thoughts out there, don’t trouble yourself with the pressures of constantly putting out content. Quality is more important that quantity, this includes beer despite what other schools of thought might sell.

The Problem With Having A Goal

If you want to achieve a certain body weight or composition, or maybe a business achievement, you will often be told that it is important to have a goal. A goal will help you see your ultimate target and the steps required to achieve that goal. You might have read about S.M.A.R.T goals but I am not going to address that concept other than to say any backronym, should be distrusted or at least met with suspicion. I could easily concoct and sell the same concept under the name D.U.M.B goals, but you wouldn’t buy it because you don’t want to be considered dumb, do you?

When you set a goal you don’t believe that you will not meet it, it is just a matter of when. The enemy of a goal is time, and that coupled with discipline as a depleting reserve will eventually result in forgetting about your original goal and mindset altogether. We all have a finite amount of effort in ourselves, whether it is in a given day when you arrive at work ready to go but find yourself flagging come 4 o’clock, or a 3 month diet plan that you follow diligently on day 1 and tell yourself you’ve been pretty good and treat yourself on day 30.

I’ve set plenty of goals for myself and I have failed far more often than not. I’ve found that setting a time frame to achieve a far off goal is not the way to go for the reasons above. My best results have been from very short term goals that are achievable in less than a week and preferably in just a few days. This short time frame gives you the ability to really see your future self clearly, albeit a few days from now.

I’ve told myself I get a six pack more times than I can count and it has never happened. The only time I got close was when I was running around 10 miles a day, I looked like a skeleton frankly and it wasn’t healthy. The six pack wasn’t the goal I should have set myself however because it is a much longer process than a week. There were stages I needed to achieve along the way that I didn’t define clearly, like getting rid of the beer belly by eating and drinking healthy. My goal should have been to eat no chocolate for 3 days because that is easy to envision and I can see the end in sight, not to say that is the end of the process of course but breaking the process down into very small chunks in the grand scheme of things is the key to success. Small successes lead to big successes.

The goals you choose are risky because they come from over thinking things and discussions with friends and family. You have an element of commitment the moment you mention a goal idea to somebody and before you know it you are running the London marathon, planning training runs between pub crawls. These types of goals that sort of come together as if by magic are pipe dreams and will never end the way you believed when you started.

When a goal chooses you, that is when you know you have a realistic target you want to meet. When you attempt something and your internal monologue takes over and says this is within your ability and if it is not that is all the more tempting to go after. I’ve been bouldering at an indoor gym since February and I’ve been hooked ever since, I enjoy the challenge of both mental and physical, and the almost solitary endeavour each climber goes through as they compete against increasingly difficult grades. I was just enjoying going to the gym without actually going to the gym, feeling the aches after grappling with plastic holds and joking around like a grown up child.

I’m not particularly good at climbing and I started on my 31st birthday, I’m a little heavier than I could be and my strength is basic. I climbed the basic grades and learned the concepts, watched other climbers, young and old, and learned from the more experienced no matter their age. The early grades in the gym are full of nice friendly hand holds and it’s like climbing a wonky ladder that has seen better days, nothing particularly exciting. I’ve always preferred competing against myself and by myself, not being relied on by a team or trying to be better than my opposite number, I see that as a short sighted target being just good enough to appease my team mates or just good enough to best my fellow amateur. I enjoy most of all the relaxed nature of climbing, there is no requirement to follow the competition rules and you can basically make up your own games.

For a bit more fun I decided to try a grade that is about 2 grades above what I know I can climb, just to see what happens, and I fell on the final move. That was when I had a goal that effectively chose me. As I fell I realised it was literally within reach and if I could stick that route then there was no reason why I couldn’t, with time, be climbing the hardest climbs in the gym. The result has been that I am eating better any training more which is helping me see and feel the benefits without worrying about climbing V8+ by February.

So don’t set yourself a goal, just be you and do your thing and let a goal choose you as you go about doing the things you enjoy. Try new things and let the combination of interests develop you mind creatively to figure out what you care about inside. Don’t set weak goals, let a goal consume you and reap the benefits.

With Great Choice Comes Great Irresponsibility

We’ve all done it, open the fridge for something to eat we look past all the fresh fruit and vegetables, all the healthy stuff, and instead pluck the chocolate cake. Leaving work we plug in our sat nav and two destinations pop up; the pub or the gym. We know the choice we should make and we know the choice we are more likely to make. Choices are the enabler of a decision that is more likely to be costly to our wellbeing.

I eat a lot of crap food, mainly out of boredom and a lack of self discipline. I can remind myself it is not worth eating that huge chocolate bar, consuming a family size bag of tortillas, or  drinking that can of coke, and often that is enough to prevent me poisoning myself. No matter how often I tell myself this though, I always revert back to eating crap, because I have the choice.

I sit on the sofa considering going and doing something active, maybe even just a short walk or even a good climbing session. The choice is hard because I’m comfy and there’s that new episode of Breaking House Of Orange Narcos Thrones is on, the fridge isn’t far away and I have that six-pack of beer to deal with.

I like to attribute my poor choices in this respect to boredom, laziness, or lacking self discipline, but recently I have been wondering is there something else at place. Something less obvious that is overlooked because it appears harmless, and I have settled upon choices.

I read about a care home where the residents began moving the furniture in their rooms around to arrange the layout the way they each individually wanted it. The care home staff were fine with this but didn’t want the residents getting hurt moving around the furniture and so they offered to move the furniture around however the resident wanted it. The residents turned around and said they didn’t want to be told they could do something, they were independent and capable people, with the ability to make their own choices and they continued to defy the staff, even though the staff were happy with the furniture being moved.

This is a great example of the the danger that comes with choices, being able to make your own decisions is often more important than the result of those decisions, even if the result comes at a cost. The residents were willing to risk injury by moving heavy furniture because all they really cared about was having the choice and taking action on it.

When there are snacks in my house they get eaten, because they are there and I can eat them because I have the power of choice and I am a grown adult who can make their own decisions. The moment there isn’t a snack in the house I grumble a bit and consider going out to get something but then I remind myself I could just eat an apple or something else healthy and I’ll be sorted. In most cases I want a snack because I am bored – usually a distraction magically makes my craving disappear. The best case is the poor choice is not available so I forget about it and go on with my day.

If I said you had won a prize, a mystery box, you would be happy and take your prize away to enjoy. If I said you had won a prize and all you needed to do now was choose between mystery box A and mystery box B, you would have a choice to make. The choice comes with a range of emotions and unnecessary stress that you wouldn’t have if you did not have to make a choice.

The trick to making the right choice is to make a decision. It might be wrong or it might be right, it might be good but could have been better, the point is that making decisions on your choices is where the reward really comes in. Assess the known factors and make a judgement call, settle your mind with the fact that you might not make the right choice but do yourself a favour and don’t dwell on the decision or the outcome. Often decisions are final and when you make peace with that you let peace into your life.

Taking choices off the table is one option but better yet is not allowing those choices on the table in the first place. Holding yourself accountable works only for a short time, being held accountable by friends is better. Real friends are ruthless, they don’t care how much you might get frustrated at their efforts to compel you to do the right thing and make the right choice, because they know you can’t be mad at them forever and you’ll share a laugh about it later. Having an accountability buddy, or accountabilibuddy, is the best way to ignore the bad choices in the first place. Set real and serious stakes with your buddy and tell them if you don’t make the right choice that they make good on the stake – you’ll never fail to make the right choice again.

Control And Influence

Getting stressed at work is all too easy, it’s like the panic you feel before going into an exam. You know it is not going to be easy or fun but it needs to get done. There are 2 things I remind myself about when it comes to stressful situations and that is Control and Influence.

Anything that you can directly impact is something you can control. In the case of an exam it is revision, in the case of delivering a piece of work it is time management. These are the things that if you ignored you would be held accountable for and likely have to answer to you boss or teacher, or other stakeholder. Preparation is the key to addressing control so making sure you get things done early and avoid procrastination will see you in a strong position when it comes to a deadline.

There are however things that are outside of your control, these can be decisions or actions that are out of your hands. With items that you cannot directly impact, the only alternative is to indirectly impact them through influence. Influence usually boils down to communication, discussing unknowns with various parties, and even clarifying knowns to ensure there is no misunderstandings or false assumptions. The important thing to remember with influence is that there are no guarantees, you might find yourself up against a wall and you just have to work with what you have. So long as you have addressed a concern ahead of time you can always point back to that conversation when the boss comes hunting for heads.

Control and Influence is a coping mechanism for stressful situations and the event that a project might not go to plan or fail entirely. Often stakeholders will be looking for someone to blame but the truth of the matter is that the end result is a reflection of the top down communication. I hold this belief against myself all the time and when there is a misunderstanding in what is required and something else gets delivered, it is a result of my failure to communicate and not the developer or designer implementing a solution. I refer back to control here because this is what I have a direct impact on – defining the requirements. My favourite approach is to go at my job like there is someone at the other end of my effort waiting patiently to catch me out on a mistake.

It does happen, I’m not perfect, but I do aim to address everything and ensure I am not caught out and that is the best I can do in the situation. When I do get caught out I like it, because it means there is something I can improve, so that the next time I am in a similar tight spot I can address that embarrassing mistake last time. Getting something wrong and then getting it right next time is the most satisfying and character building version of succeeding.

Look first for things you can control and encourage others in your team to do the same, then look for things you can influence to ensure a greater chance of success. This is how successful teams work, doing their part and then looking outward to see where they can help. Communication is the fundamental tool of any successful team and nothing has been solved without it.

Listen To Your Elders

When I was younger I used to receive advice, or be given a good talking to by my elders and I remember thinking – “You think you know everything, but you’re wrong”. For the most part I would just let it go in one ear and out the other, seeing no evidence to the education I was receiving.

You need to do this, and you need to do that, if you want to make something of yourself in this world. Alright old man, maybe in your day but this is the modern world and I’ll be known as a millennial someday and things will be different, I’ll have my own challenges to face and everything you are telling me now will be irrelevant.

That obviously changed as I got older and when I started accepting I didn’t know anything about being a grown up, after all I have never been this age before and that is a theme that will repeat itself for the rest of my life. With that in mind, others have been this age before and it is with the benefit of hindsight that those ahead of me in years can impart wisdom and experience to me for free.

I’m still careful to absorb advice only where sound evidence is present but I am more open to listening to those that are older than me. Interestingly when I try to impart knowledge and experience to those younger than me, I receive that familiar response that I once retorted to my future self.

So, probably in vain, the best parting advice I can give to those growing up in the world is to listen to your elders. I’m sure my words will be heeded…

Making Lunch Your Last Priority

I’ve just started experimenting with taking my lunch at the end of my day and I think it is a win-win situation for both myself and my employer. I started by looking at what I do with my lunch break and how it impacts my day both personally and professionally. Some aspects I only realised after conducting this experiment, and others I hypothesised and have been pleased with the results.

So to start with I was taking a leaf out of The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, and seeing how I could cut down the number of hours I am at work for. I’ve never been very good at lunch, I don’t know what to eat and I think it is generally the most difficult meal of the day. You’re away from a kitchen for the most part and it is not very easy to prepare and cook a healthy meal with the office microwave. So I figured, why do I need to take my lunch break at all, I could just go home an hour earlier. To be discussed with my boss…

For now I decided to assess what I do with my one hour lunch break and if I am honest I just kind of fill it with whatever distracts me from work. Nothing really of value, just playing fifa with my colleagues, or table tennis, or darts – yes my workplace is that kind of office, and I think it is healthy. Healthy in general but I know it isn’t for me. Food is the other big one, I either eat something unhealthy or relatively healthy and boring. It’s not even that I am hungry, I pretty much graze on crap snacks throughout the day anyway and then I pile on this rubbish meal at a pre-defined time whether I am hungry or not.

So starting Monday I did an experiment where I don’t take lunch, I work straight through and at the end of the day I would go home an hour early. The only difference in the end was that I didn’t go home, I just took my lunch hour at the end of the day at my desk and I spent it catching up on reading articles and watching videos that I had in my backlog, all things I should do during my lunch break. Part of the reason I didn’t just go home and do these things is that I didn’t want to draw attention to what I am doing. It might not turn out to be productive for the business or healthy for me personally.

Well I am 2 days in and this may be me getting overexcited but I think I have had my best 2 work days, and home evenings, in as long as I can remember. I like not having this void in the middle of the day that I fill with worthless “personal time” and it means I don’t lose focus on the work at hand. When everyone goes for lunch I have a full hour to myself where I can catch up on work without distractions. Our office is open plan and my role is one which means I am constantly communicating with people I am working with so I don’t feel like a hermit. Focus has simply been the defining factor with working 7.5 hours straight.

I suppose it helps that some of the jobs I have done in the past were physically hard and lunchtime was a welcome break from hauling logs, branches, and trunk rings around or running everywhere with loads on my back. I’m in technology now and the heaviest thing I have to  carry is a laptop – or maybe a mug of tea if I choose the pint sized mug. So needing a break isn’t really on the cards for me I feel, maybe my brain is working but I don’t feel I need a break to regather my strength.

Most of the conversations I have happen at the start of the day, the urgent and important information I am given and decisions I am asked for usually hit me first thing, which is good because it allows myself and others to get answers and get on with things. By the time late afternoon rolls around, my mental energy has been depleted meaning it is the perfect time to shut off. I probably used to slow down a lot and not really delivering a massive amount of value compared to when I was fresh at the beginning of the day. Changing focus an hour before the end of my day reignites my energy levels and allows me to start my evening earlier, whilst still being around should any last minute questions come my way.

All round I think this has been a beneficial change for me and my employer and I intend to continue with this approach unless a glaring issue comes to light that negatively impacts the business operations as a result of my modified work day. I appreciate not everyone will be able to adapt like this easily, I know I saw Tim Ferriss’ approach to shortening his work day as out of reach. The key is getting creative with the constraints you are working within, and who knows you might find your idea delivers greater value to your employer and your own mental wellbeing.

Blade Runner Is 3D Printers On Mars

I have a smart phone, it is incredible what I can do with it. I could run my entire work day from it if I wanted to. I can check email, instant message on slack, and manage projects from that little screen. It wouldn’t be easy but it is possible and reliable with a good wifi connection or 3/4G. One thing bothers me though, I still can’t guarantee that I will have a crystal clear conversation with somebody. The fundamental feature of a phone is to have a vocal conversation with somebody, so why is it that we as a community skipped that problem of the unreliable cellular network?  I’ve lost count of the number of times I have had a phone call cut short or broken up because I cannot hear the other person clearly or the connection has dropped due to signal issues – good thing I can reliably play candy crush though.

We have a printer in our office, not true actually, we have 3 printers for about 20 people max. None of these printers are reliable, each has their own quirks and some people have their favourite because they have worked out how to use it, I know I have. We are apologists for crappy technology, we work around their flaws to meet our goals and forget about it. As a species we have skipped the office printer and gone straight to the 3D printer, even though 3D printers wont allow me to print that document I need. It’s like a kid trying to concentrate and then catching sight of the playstation and forgetting all about their homework.

Airplanes crash, a lot. A lot more than they should do I feel. Frankly I think it is crazy that we (myself included) are willing to climb into tubes with wings and thrust into the sky. Remember this, a passenger plane is just a train carriage with wings. Everything we travel in is basically a tube with appendages to suit the external environment. So airplanes crash, trains crash, cars crash, but apparently the most important thing to do right now is fly out of our atmosphere and travel 54 million kilometers to another planet. Yet we cannot rely on our current forms of world travel.

Have you ever watched Blade Runner and wondered how this version of our future selves has managed to create human like androids that are so convincing as humans that even the android itself cannot realise it is not human, and yet for some reason nobody has fixed those leaking street pipes. Los Angeles is more polluted than ever, over populated, and everywhere you look there are derelict buildings. This is the world we are moving into by skipping the fundamental things nobody has solved yet because they got distracted by the shiny things. We will end up in a world where the poverty gap is even greater, and the technology gap will be just as great.

Blade Runner underlying them isn’t some futuristic robot chick flick, it’s the resulting disparity of technology and its impact on the human race as a culture.