What work/life balance means to me

I have a certain capacity for creative output. That level may increase or decrease over time, but it stays relatively constant day-to-day.

You can think of this capacity as tokens that I have available to spend each day. I can either spend these tokens at my full-time job, at a side gig, or on a personal project.

I feel most balanced when I use 80% of my creative capacity at my full-time job and 20% elsewhere.

When I use 100% of my capacity at my full-time job for an extended period of time (say 2 weeks or more), I feel unbalanced. My overall creative capacity starts to decline. Some might call this feeling burned out.

When I use more than 20% on personal projects or side gigs (i.e. less than 80% at work) for more than two days in a row, I feel unbalanced, like I’m neglecting my work responsibilities. Like I’m falling behind and my output isn’t up to par.

I’ve never taken complete breaks from creating things. The manifestation just tends to shift. On vacations I tend to pick up photography and journaling to fill the creative gap. Sometimes drawing. During the holidays I tend to make more elaborate meals and try making new cocktails.

I’ve also never shifted 100% of my capacity into personal projects for an extended period. I haven’t been unemployed for more than a week in the past 7 years. Vacations are breaks from personal projects as much as traditional work, so that is why the output tends to shift to photography, journaling, and drawing.

I routinely go 3-4 weeks at a time at a 95/5 split on work/personal. Those times my personal creative output tends to be listening notes from podcasts and cooking. Days during high work periods where I manage to put out a longer blog post, I’m almost certainly eating leftovers or takeout. (Tonight, for instance: 3 blog posts plus curating a bunch of book recommendations on Likewise and I ate leftover soup for lunch and made a taco salad from leftovers in the fridge for dinner.)

I radically cut down the amount of side gigs I take on in order to prioritize personal projects. In fact, I have no side gigs going on at the moment.

What would my creative output look like when focused 100% on the personal side? I haven’t experienced that since high school and college, but the photography projects I focused on during those periods still rank among what I consider my best. Even periods where I’ve shifted to a 20/80 split on work/personal resulted in projects I’m proud of and look upon fondly.

In the next few years, I’d like to take a complete month away from full-time work and focus on personal projects for the entire time. Deliberately throw myself out of balance in a way I’m not used to and see what I create.

On Creative Blocks

Creative people commonly lament about being “blocked,” perpetually stuck and unable to produce work when necessary. Blocks spring from the imbalanced relationship of How and Why: either we have an idea, but lack the skills to execute; or we have skills, but lack a message, idea, or purpose for the work. The most despised and common examples of creative block are the latter, because the solution to a lack of purpose is so elusive. If we are short on skill, the answer is to practice and seek outside guidance from those more able until we improve. But when we are left without something to say, we have no choice but to either go for a walk or continue suffering in front of a blank page. Often in situations like these, we seek relief in the work of others; we look for solace in creations that seem to have both high craft and resounding purpose, because they remind us that there is a way out of the cul-de-sac we have driven into by mistake. We can, by dissecting these pieces, begin to see what gives the work of others their vitality, and better understand the inner methods of what we produce ourselves. If we are attentive, with just a dash of luck, we may even discover where the soul of our own work lies by having it mirrored back to us in the work of others.

But we must be careful not to gaze too long, lest we give up too much of ourselves. Forfeiting our perspective squanders the opportunity to let the work take its own special form and wastes our chance to leave our fingerprints on it. We must remember Why we are working, because craft needs objectives, effort needs purpose, and we need an outlet for our song. If we stay on the surface and do not dig deep by asking Why, we’re not truly designing.

From Frank Chimero’s The Shape of Design

Jerry Saltz on The Longform Podcast

Podcast: http://longform.org/posts/longform-podcast-311-jerry-saltz

Notes:

  • This was a breath of fresh air for me. Saltz didn’t start writing until he was in his 40s. Now he is one of NYC’s top art critics, if not one of the world’s top art critics.
  • Saltz’s thoughts on being nice to gallery staff, always signing the book, and the need for ushering in a new generation of artists, gallery owners, and critics made me think about what it takes to start the next generation in any well-established field.
  • Real criticism needs both praise and critique, but must be completely free from cynicism.
  • Saltz’s art criticism is a breath of fresh air. It is free from the nonsense jargon and faux deep meaning/symbolism that made me think art writing isnt for me. His writing is approachable and I finish his articles having learned something.
  • His openness about his background and current financial situation is was eye-opening, too. Real people can become art critics and use that as a means to make a living, not just rich people with too much time on their hands.
  • His instagram is a great way to find up and coming artists.
  • I’ve added his weekly column to the list of things I read each week.

Notes on Office Hours: Debate and Unmotivated Friends

1: The Value of Debate, Is Self-Improvement Overrated, and Dealing with Haters

Notes:

  • The question: Is debate valuable?
  • I side with TK here on the value of debate. Most debates suck, but there is some value in the format if done well. The Sam Harris/Jordan Peterson debate is a great example of this. There were able to map out where they agree and find the boundary along which they disagree, which helps both of them better understand the other and helps the audience decide the correct arguments for themselves. That would have been impossible with separate lectures.
  • Debates done well should look more like a spirited but respectful conversation between friends. Not just signaling for crowds.

2: What to Ask In a Job Interview & Is It Worth it to Help Unmotivated Friends

Notes:

  • The question: How do you deal with friends who have ideas but never take action on them?
  • I think the best way to deal with friends like this is to take their claims seriously. They may be signaling other values with their actions, but if we take their claims seriously, we give them the opportunity to confront their reality, which can take two forms: 1) Take their own claims seriously and take actions necessary to make them a reality or 2) Put those claims to rest and embrace others that align with their true values.
  • A few ways to do this are to show them paths to get to where they want, talk through their ideas with them, show examples of others doing similar things, and encourage them to take the first step. Perhaps even taking the first step with them.
  • I don’t think you must do this, but I do think you have the responsibility to do this if you’ve confronted the question of whether or not to do it. You are free to reject the responsibility, but taking hold of that responsibility is an opportunity to strengthen your friendship and help someone change their life in a positive way.
  • A few ways this has helped me when others took this approach:
    • Cook Like Chuck was born out of encouragement and help taking the first step by my best friend. I tossed around the idea for about a year, until one night he said, “You should take photos of this and it can be the first recipe.” Then an hour later he said, “Let’s buy the domain. What do you want to call it? I think Cook Like Chuck would be a great name.” – At the end of that night I had the skeleton of the site set up and half of the first post written. Without that catalyst it would have taken me another year to get to that stage.
    • Back in college, I wanted to blog more, but wasn’t consistent about it. My suite mate started a 365 day photo challenge on his own blog a few months earlier, so he encouraged me to join in starting Jan 1, which was a few weeks away. He talked me through how he makes time, how it strengthened his photography skills, and how people naturally started following his site. That put me over the edge and put me into a situation where I grew dramatically through that year-long challenge.
    • You could argue that I might have done these things anyway, but I’m grateful to those friends and I greatly appreciated the marginal push that got me past the hang up. I want to do the same for my friends. Not in an annoying or judging way, but in an encouraging way.

Series are eclipsing movies

Cameron Sorsby asked the Praxis staff today what our top 3-5 favorite movies are, off the top of our heads. I came up with 3 easily, but none were recent. Then I realized that no movie I’ve watched for the first time in the last four years is memorable. Series are getting so much better and eclipsing movies since they are free from networks and ad breaks.

What will the next leap forward for movies look like? Netflix/Amazon Prime hasn’t changed much for that format. What’s next?

Not Unreasonable Podcast interview with Tyler Cowen

Podcast: https://www.buzzsprout.com/126848/814311

Notes

  • I enjoyed hearing Tyler Cowen speak about his new book from Stripe Press, Stubborn Attachments, which I preordered a while back.
  • I admire Cowen aligning his actions to his beliefs and optimizing his life with things that bring him joy, including constant learning.
  • The number of times they used the word “Straussian” got on the annoying end of the spectrum
  • Writing for different audiences in different lengths and styles is a great way to make sure you understand a subject.
  • The interviewer did very little naval gazing/meta commentary on the interview, which is one reason I liked this episode much more than Cowen’s episode on The Knowledge Project podcast.

Legends & Losers 212: Mike Maples, Jr.

Podcast:

Notes:

  • Networks need rules from the beginning. Imposing after (like Twitter) is a mess.
  • You need a sense of purpose other than growth, or else you’ll build things that addict people. Addicted people without a sense of purpose lead to fake news, spam, and vitriol.
  • We do have an inequality issue in the world right now, but it is probably not wealth (outcome-based) inequality, but rather opportunity inequality. Some people have more opportunities than others. Race, social status, gender, and other things play into this. Fixing the opportunity inequality issue will go a lot further to raising income and wealth for everyone than redistribution.
  • It is time to start a media company that focuses on something specific. Don’t go the HuffPo model of no rudder, ad-based. Go the Stratechery model of focused on a single topic, direct pay model. Most media sucks right now. Lots of opportunity. 

Fixing “Media kit reports not enough space on device” error in Disk Utility

I got this error today when trying to partition a Western Digital My Passport 4TB:

Volume erase failed: Media kit reports not enough space on device

Nothing I could do inside Disk Utility worked. Thanks to some kind soul on Reddit, here is how I solved the issue from the command line:

$ diskutil list
$ diskutil unmountDisk force disk2  #replace disk2 with your disk number

and then write zeros to the boot sector:
$ sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/disk2 bs=1024 count=1024

Attempt to partition it again:
$ diskutil partitionDisk disk2 GPT JHFS+ "My External HD" 0g

Get Back On Track

Sometimes I get off track. This is what I need to do to get back on track:

  1. Turn off social media. Remove apps from phone, turn on the 1Blocker (iPad and iPhone) and WasteNoTime (Mac) rules.
  2. Wash your face.
  3. Drink a full glass of water and eat a healthy snack if you need one.
  4. Get your keys and headphones, put on a podcast, go for a walk around the building. Breathe deeply the whole time. Check the mail when you come back in.
  5. Clean off your desk, clean off the dining table, and empty/load the dish washer.
  6. Turn off the podcast and turn on music (Jazz Vibes, Hundred Days Off, or Tycho). Sit down at the dining table with your notebook and make a list of the most important things that need to get one. Evaluate each item and block out a time on the calendar to knock it out over the next few days.
  7. Pick one thing to start work on immediately. Start working.

Venkatesh Rao on Big Data, Machine Learning, and Blockchains

Venkatesh Rao had a good take on the big data/machine learning/blockchain mania in Breaking Smart a few weeks ago:

Many people, database experts among them, dismiss Big Data as a fad that’s already come and gone, and argue that it was a meaningless term, and that relational databases can do everything NoSQL databases can. That’s not the point! The point of Big Data, pointed out by George Dyson, is that computing undergoes a fundamental phase shift when it crosses the Big Data threshold: when it is cheaper to store data than to decide what to do with it. The point of Big Data technologies is not to perversely use less powerful database paradigms, but to defer decision-making about data — how to model, structure, process, and analyze it — to when (and if) you need to, using the simplest storage technology that will do the job.A organization that chooses to store all its raw data, developing an eidetic corporate historical memory so to speak, creates informational potential and invests in its own future wisdom.

Next, there is machine learning. Here the connection is obvious. The more you have access to massive amounts of stored data, the more you can apply deep learning techniques to it (they really only work at sufficiently massive data scales) to extract more of the possible value represented by the information. I’m not quite sure what a literal Maxwell’s Historian might do with its history of stored molecule velocities, but I can think of plenty of ways to use more practical historical data.

And finally, there are blockchains. Again, database curmudgeons (what is it about these guys??) complain that distributed databases can do everything blockchains can, more cheaply, and that blockchains are just really awful, low-capacity, expensive distributed databases (pro-tip, anytime a curmudgeon makes an “X is just Y” statement, you should assume by default that the(X-Y) differences they are ignoring are the whole point of X). As with Big Data, they are missing the point. The essential feature of blockchains is not that they can poorly and expensively mimic the capabilities of distributed databases, but do so in a near-trustless decentralized way, with strong irreversibility and immutability properties.

Video: How Panobook is Made

Studio Neat put together a cool video showing how the Panobook is made. I preordered three Panobooks and can’t wait for them to arrive.

Studio Neat makes some of my favorite products: Neat Ice Kit, Highball, and the Glif. I love the way they document their work through videos like this, their weekly newsletter, and their podcast, Thoroughly Considered.

 

New Wes Anderson Trailer: Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson and his team are so good. Their attention to detail is extraordinary. Every single one of the dogs in this animation have a deep level of emotion and personality. I’m looking forward to seeing this in theaters next year.

EYES by Lucas Zanotto

This is a super cool short film documenting a series of art installations by Lucas Zanotto. Simple colors, shapes, and movements can convey so much emotion and character.

My Inbox Clearing Method

Like many, I’m all about that Inbox Zero life. I’m not going to preach here about it. You’ve heard enough of that elsewhere. I’m going to show you how I get it done.

Winning Before Starting

I like to set myself up for success whenever possible. What that looks like here is severely limiting the amount of inbound email I get. Fewer incoming messages means fewer messages to process.

  • I am ruthless about unsubscribing to unwanted emails. I am only subscribed to seven newsletters, all of which I get value out of regularly. I immediately unsubscribe from sales and marketing emails I get after buying stuff online. If I have to give an email address on a website, I add “+promo” to the end of my address and use a rule to automatically send it to the trash.
  • For important day-to-day questions and messages from coworkers, we use Slack.

These few things cut my email volume by 80%. The remaining 20% is primarily important, valuable, or actionable: Emails from clients, customers, friends, and family, important notifications, and interesting newsletters that I actually read.

Method

  • I primarily process email on my 10.5″ iPad Pro using Spark or Airmail. I switch back and forth between the two every few weeks. Emails I can respond to immediately, I do. Emails that need further action get added to my to-do list. Both have a key feature that is critical to my workflow: The Share Sheet. This allows me to take an email and put it as a to-do item in my favorite task manager with a few taps without switching apps. As soon as an email gets added to my task list, it gets archived. The task includes a link directly to the email so I can get back to it quickly if needed.
  • On my Mac I also use Spark and Airmail, switching to whichever one I’m using on my iPad at the time. Both have widgets that allow me to share the email to my favorite task manager.
  • I use Things 3 as my task manager. Tasks that I share from my email get put into a holding zone (also called the Inbox), which I process and assign a due date and put into the correct bucket twice a day. Things has my definitive task list and I use it as a launch pad for planning my day each morning.
  • Every Monday I set my plan for the week and send it over to my boss. Because I’m not dogmatic about maintaining Inbox Zero every single day, I clear it out on Monday mornings before organizing my task list for the week just in case something in my email needs to go on the list.

That is it. This is consistent for me because it is tied to a concrete weekly deliverable: My weekly check-in with Isaac. In order to give an accurate representation of my priorities and tasks for the week, I must clean out my inbox first. I leave myself no choice in the matter, because if I did, I’m likely to ignore my inbox and let it get out of hand.