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.

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?

On Jury Duty

I’m very torn on jury duty. I despise politics, I don’t vote, I rarely follow the news, and I think that most laws should be nullified. I’d prefer to be rid of the whole business.

On the other hand, I deeply believe in justice and want reasonable, thoughtful people on juries.

I’ve so far avoided jury duty by being out of state at college when I was summoned. My plan if I ever got called again was to say some radical thing in order to get kicked out of the selection pool. That is no longer my plan. Now I think that I have an obligation to be the thoughtful, reasonable juror that I’d want if I were on trial.

Building a Wide Base of Knowledge

Someone I’m advising asked me this morning how to build a wide base of knowledge across many subjects and disciplines. Here was my answer:

The short answer is that you need to be curious. Specifically:

  1. Read widely.
  2. Ask people what they are working on and dig in to understand. Ask lots of questions. Spend lots of time listening.
  3. Work on your memory. If your memory isn't that great, take lots of searchable notes.
  4. Build good relationships with people who you can ask about things.
  5. Build up mental models: Conceptual understandings of how things are structured and work.

Finding Wilderness Within Civilization

I read this article from The Guardian about an ophthalmologist who is spending his retirement living out of a backpack and hiking all around the US. Most of it is only mildly interesting, but I loved this part:

The next night, we slept in a copse of gnarled oaks beside a graveyard, a shady grove carpeted with slender, rippling leaves. It was strangely lovely. Eberhart found them everywhere, these forgotten little shards of wilderness. The problem, he said, was that hikers tended to divide their lives into compartments: wilderness over here, civilization over there. “The walls that exist between each of these compartments are not there naturally,” he said. “We create them. The guy that has to stand there and look at Mount Olympus to find peace and quiet and solitude and meaning – life has escaped him totally!”’

I’ve found that it is very important for my well-being to seek out and spend time in this urban wilderness. I live in Yonkers, which isn’t nearly as dense as most parts of NYC, but life here is still dominated by apartments and concrete. For someone who grew up where houses, yards, and trees are the norm, finding these little places are necessary.  

I’ve found three great refuges within walking distance of my apartment. I’m writing this post on my iPad from one of them right now. I like to go for a walk at least once a day and 4/5 days per week (weather permitting) I work outside from one of these spots. Working these places into my daily life greatly improves my well-being.

While I’m not physically more than 50-100 yards from the street, the feel is completely different. Green replaces grey, the smell of grass and trees replace the smell of trash and exhaust fumes, and the sound of birds chirping replaces the sound of car engines.

For times when you need to get away from the city completely, there are tons of great hiking spots within an hour’s drive of NYC: The Palisades, Bear Mountain, Doodletown, Breakneck Ridge, Anthony’s Nose, and Ramapo Lake to name a few. You can even reach a section of the Appalachian Trail by Metro North.

I was having trouble connecting to my Karma Go device on my iPad. Wasn’t auto connecting to the website to authenticate. So I tried the old http://192.168.1.1 trick (happened to be the device’s IP) and it worked!

Why I Canceled My Medium Membership

I jumped on-board the Medium Membership train back in March, as soon as I could. I was excited about it. I couldn’t wait to see the great content behind the paywall and to see what new features they were going to roll out just for members.

Well, three months later I’m cancelling my membership. Here’s why:

  • The members-only content isn’t that good. The best stuff on Medium is already available to the public. I don’t care about the thinkpieces Medium features on a daily basis. I bookmark and recommend articles on Medium multiple times per week, so they have data to build a recommendation engine on. They need the archive of content there first, though. 
  • The audio feature is too small to be useful. I check the selection of audio versions of articles 3-4 times per week and I only found one so far I was actually interested in. Unfortunately, the reader sucked. Huge letdown. I can get past it if there is a wide implementation and more articles I wanted to read were available in audio, but that isn’t the case.
  • I don’t need an offline reading list. I’m usually connected. If I’m not, Pocket, Raindrop.io, or Evernote can save a copy.
  • No new tools for publications or authors come bundled with Membership, or at least none that I could find. It would be completely awesome if Members could submit audio versions of their own articles.

I hope Medium becomes profitable and stays around. But unless they roll out more features and get some compelling content behind the paywall, my membership is permanently on hold. Gotta deliver value fast and keep delivering, or your customers wont stick around. 

Yeah, I know I’m n=1 and all that, but it is hard to see the real value add to a Medium Membership. It certainly isn’t worth $60/year to me. I wanted to love it, but it is a letdown.