Podcast Episode 4: “Getting Things Done.” Interview with Julie Ireland, GTD Focus.

To listen to the episode, click here

Managing tasks at work and at home has never been easy. COVID-19 hasn’t made it any easier. Which is why I’m so excited to release this week’s podcast episode, where I had the privilege of interviewing Julie Ireland, Senior GTD Coach at GTD Focus. When I first heard about Julie’s Getting Things Done or “GTD” Coaching services, I figured it was just about being more productive. Turns out, it’s about a whole lot more.

GTD Focus is the Exclusive Partner for the delivery of Getting Things Done® (GTD®) individual coaching in the United States and Canada. Their workflow coaching services are one-on-one intensives that will drill down to the core of how you work, coach you in making better tactical and strategic decisions, and guide you in building sustainable systems that will better support your flourishing, amidst rapid change and growth.

Julie’s work is fascinating, and my take on GTD is that it’s more of a philosophy and a mindset than an instruction manual. But I have to say the thing I was most impressed with was how open and present Julie was during our interview. It was contagious (not a great word to be throwing around right now but I can’t think of a better one) and before long we were both talking about big picture topics, such as:

  • Managing through crisis
  • Getting help vs. DIY
  • Creativity, where it comes from and how structure plays into it
  • The benefits of testing and “trial-and-error”
  • The challenges we’ve seen with COVID-19, as well as the bright spots of graciousness and generosity
  • Books (obviously)

At the end of the day, this interview was about coaching. That word means a lot more to me now, and based on what I’ve seen Julie is everything a coach should be.

Show Notes:

  • How this episode almost didn’t get recorded, and how Julie and I got connected via Scott Wurtzbacher (episode 1) [00:40]
  • Julie’s introduction to GTD [2:30]
  • What it means to have a coach, coaching vs. DIY and the importance of being vulnerable [8:15]
  • The essence of GTD and the work that Julie does [12;30]
  • COVID-19. Managing tasks (as well as expectations) while working from home [19:50]
  • The importance of knowing what you’re saying “no” to when deciding whether to say “yes” to something else [25:50]
  • Julie’s “fast-food” analogy to managing email [29:25]
  • The “five ‘I’s” of GTD [31:55]
  • Once your daily tasks are done, where does the next big thing come from? [38:33]
  • Recommendations for getting started with GTD, including setup guides [39:46]
  • Julie’s approach to prioritizing nonfiction, and her “read watch and listen” list, and the importance of making decisions based on [41:20]
  • The different horizon levels of the GTD model, the importance of making decisions that are in alignment with your values, and how Julie applies the GTD principles in her personal life [47:17]
  • Several favorite books Julie and I have in common  [52:45]
  • How Julie used GTD principles to pursue her passion for painting [56:03]
  • GTD Focus, and its nuanced approach to helpin clients through GTD in alignment with their learning styles [58:35]
  • How Julie plans to “Do Better This Year” [1:01:14]

References

“Have A Morning Routine.” *Sigh…*

I was standing on my balcony talking to a good friend of mine earlier this week, and at one point in the conversation he commented,

“You know, I noticed that you’ve been sighing a lot during this conversation. Why is that?”

I’ve been sighing a lot these days. During FaceTime visits with family, Zoom meetings with colleagues, and Google Hangouts with friends, at some point in the conversation I’ll fill the silence by shrugging my shoulders and sighing. What else can you do?

A lot has changed in the past few weeks, and the change seems to be coming faster each day. Decisions that used to be simple, like when to go to the grocery store or what to do to keep the kids busy, are starting to feel a little more complicated. Now it seems like every little decision I make affects not just myself but my family, my community, and America.

And a lot of the goals I set in 2020 have been completely derailed. Drinking has seen an uptick. I haven’t been working out as much while I figure out what “working out” looks like now. Liz and I were off to a good start going on more dates in 2020, but who knows when we’ll be able to go to a restaurant again? Although I will say that keeping the car clean has been a lot easier since the shelter-in-place order. Silver linings.

But there’s one area in particular where the wheels are really starting to fall off: my morning routine. The routine I described in October, which involved working out, meditating, reading a book, planning my day, and getting into the office with a cup of coffee by 7:45, seems a far cry from what I’m doing now. These days jeans are formal wear, meditating is non-existent, and reading a book has been replaced with a 24-hour news cycle revolving around one, single story.

Some of my struggles are more practical.  The gym is closed – and my “home gym” consists of two 15 lb dumbbells in our dining room/kitchen/family room. And I really took for granted how helpful was to have time to myself during my commute – I don’t really have that now. Some real pivoting is in order in some cases.

But other struggles are harder to tie to specific external circumstances. Take snacking, for example. What is going on with that??? The snacking is getting out of control. I stopped doing intermittent fasting, and now I literally just walk around the house eating things, opening up and shutting cupboards and refrigerator doors again and again hoping to find… what exactly? Comfort I guess.

And isn’t that understandable at this time? Let me hit the pause button and say unequivocally that yes, it is. If you’re struggling with something similar, let me just say that it’s OK in my book. We’re all dealing with this in different ways, and I don’t think there’s a “right way” to be handling this right now. Still, it brings up an important dichotomy that I’m having trouble with these days:

I want to practice self-acceptance, but not at the expense of personal growth.

So how do I do that? How do I reconcile devouring an entire sleeve of Oreos that were supposed to be for the kids but Liz left them on the counter so they’re gone now?

Maintaining order where we can is important now more than ever as we collectively navigate this time of crisis. At the same time, we have to forgive ourselves. Two of my friends have recently used the word “grace” to describe this. It’s not a word I typically use, but I might pick it up. We could all use a little grace during this time. At the end of the day, it’s a balancing act. I need to forgive myself for the past without encouraging similar behavior in the future.

So this month, let’s focus on the present, and what we can do in the here and now to get things trending in the right direction again. I’m still convinced we can Do Better This Year, we just have to get things back on track, starting with where we have the most control. For me, that would be the alarm clock.

Podcast Episode 3: “Fitness Longevity.” Interview with Rich O’Neill, Elite Functional Performance.

In this episode of the New Year’s Revolutionary podcast, I had the privilege of interviewing Rich O’Neill, owner of Elite Functional Performance (EFP) here in Charlotte. 

To listen to the episode, click here

Rich is a certified personal trainer with over 30,000 hours of personal training experience. He uses his skills to first evaluate each client’s bio-alignment and functional mobility. He then begins to organize a system of movements designed to alleviate pain, improve functional movement and avoid further injuries down the road. I’ve experienced this process first hand, and am excited to continue working with Rich and his team on my own fitness development.

We covered a lot of ground in this episode. I was blown away by the depth of Rich’s knowledge about physical fitness and nutrition, and his ability to distill and explain it in ways that made sense. We talked about Rich’s unique entry into the field, and how that has shaped his approach and perspective. We discussed his thoughts on coaching, nutrition, books, routines, and the challenges of work/life balance as a business owner.

(One thing we did not talk about was coronavirus. We recorded this a few days before the response really started developing here in North Carolina. Hopefully this will be a nice respite from the news!)

Show Notes:

  • How we got connected via Scott Wurtzbacher (episode 1) [00:45]
  • How Rich first got introduced to fitness and nutrition, and overcame personal injury in the process [1:49]
  • Rich’s immersion into the “Fitness Longevity” philosophy through his mentor Sam Iannetta [10:35]
  • How certain habits can lead to pain and injury down the road, and how they can be corrected in the gym [19.30]
  • Coaching vs. DIY in personal fitness [24:44]
  • Nutrition, and Rich’s thoughts on recent trends (keto, paleo, Whole 30) [27:50]
  • Intermittent fasting, and timing protein intake with your workouts [35:30]
  • Two supplements that the average person might be deficient in [40:00]
  • Book recommendations on fitness, and the importance of understanding both anatomy and physiology [43:10]
  • Rich’s morning routine which starts at 3:36 a.m. (a new record for the NYR podcast!) [50:00]
  • Entrepreneurship, and the challenge of running a business while maintaining a work/life balance [53:40]
  • Rich’s plans to “Do Better This Year” [59:20]

References

Coach or DIY? Why You Need To DIY.

I’d run out of ideas. It was Sunday night, the interview was scheduled for Tuesday, it was going to be a disaster and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

It all started earlier that week. My buddy Henri Gresset (Episode 2) and I had gotten together for a brainstorming session for our podcast content. I thought it might be helpful to do a little recording to familiarize my guest with the equipment. So we sat down, hit record and talked for a few minutes, then played it back.

And Henri sounded awful. He was muffled, distant, almost incoherent at times.

“Poor, guy,” I thought (note: having exactly ONE episode under my belt…) “He needs to work on his mic technique.”

So I patiently explained to Henri the appropriate distance he needs to be from the mic, what he should visualize in order to project better, you know… the basics. It seemed to help a little bit but still, it sounded pretty bad. He promised to work on it over the weekend.

Sunday evening came around, and we sat down again to record. I had to admit that, hearing him live, Henri sounded great. But again, when we played it back he still sounded bad. We adjusted the software settings, changed seating arrangements – we even switched our mics to see if it was an equipment issue, still terrible. As he was leaving I tried to sound enthusiastic about Tuesday, but it was hard to hide my frustration.

Later that night I asked my wife to read through the questions with me – we did this for my interview with Scott (Episode 1), and I found it helped me prepare transitions between subjects. so we recorded a few minutes and listened back, and I was shocked:

Liz sounded terrible, too.

But that didn’t make any sense! She and I had done this just a few weeks ago and she sounded great. Maybe it was the microphone? We switched, but again she sounded terrible, I sounded…OK. But not great. Hmm… maybe some of my settings were wrong? I checked the gain, watched instructional YouTube videos, restarted my computer, positioned the mics farther away from each other… nothing seemed to work.

Then I listened to the old episode with Scott again, and was amazed – Scott and I both sounded SO much better than what we were dealing with now.

Maybe there was something wrong with the software I was using? I checked all the settings and they looked normal. Then I remembered my computer has its own recording software and, just for kicks, I tried recording using that instead of Audacity.

And it sounded perfect.

Ah ha! I heaved a sigh of relief. So it wasn’t Henri, it wasn’t the equipment, it was Audacity that was the problem. Probably some obscure setting that got adjusted somehow. Annoyed, I restarted the program and committed to doing a detailed review of all settings.

I didn’t have to review for long. When I restarted the program the first thing I saw was this:

microphone

And that’s when I remembered: my laptop has a built in microphone. Audacity had defaulted to that instead of to the microphones I was using for the podcast. For almost a week I’d been messing around with microphones which weren’t even on. And the reason Henri and Liz sounded worse than me wasn’t because I had amazing technique – it was because they were farther away from the laptop.

I laughed until there were tears in my eyes. I explained it to Liz, and got a hard eye-roll in return. Then it was time to call Henri and apologize, and explain to him that everything was going to be fine Tuesday. And it was.

Now at this point you might be questioning the title of this post. I spent hours working on this issue, and if I’d had a coach it would have probably been avoided. So why am I glad that I took the DIY approach here? It goes back to my favorite quote about work from Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness:

I don’t like work–no man does–but I like what is in the work–the chance to find yourself.

And what I found was ego. There was a long list of people and things I blamed before I considered blaming myself.

This happens a lot in my DIY projects, and it can often lead to disaster. For example, how many times in life have I worked on an IKEA project and immediately blamed them:

  • I can’t believe they miscounted the screws in this instruction manual… oh well!
  • All done… wait what’s this piece for? Must have been included by mistake. In the garbage it goes!
  • This board is supposed to fit between these two other boards but it’s not going through. Must have gotten a bad one. Oh well, if I just push a little harder I can probably make it work the way it’s supposed to… SNAP!

When I think about “experience,” whether it be in my work or in my personal life, sometimes it feels like knowledge I’ve acquired through a huge collection of mistakes. But I also hope that, as I continue to make mistakes I can gradually work on the heart of the issue, my ego, and approach my work more humbly going forward.

Coach, or DIY? Why You Need A Coach.

I just wrapped up a podcast interview with Rich O’Neill, owner of Elite Functional Performance (EFP) here in Charlotte. It was a great interview and I’m excited to share it, hoping to publish later this month. We covered a lot of ground, but one of the topics we discussed that I found most interesting was the idea of “coaching,” or more specifically the following question: “When should I get a coach, and when should I do it myself?”

There are plenty of ways to take the DIY approach in fitness. You can read books, watch YouTube videos, and try to piece everything together during your workouts. I’ve taken this approach before and made progress, but it was slow and difficult. So much of what you’re doing is about feel. You have to be proprioceptive.

(I’d like to take a minute to welcome, in its David Wells publishing debut,  the word “proprioceptive” to the stage! I had to do a lot of Googling to find this word. Also WordPress insists it’s not a word but I copied and pasted it out of the Oxford dictionary so I feel confident that it is, and hopefully I’m using it correctly)

Anyway, unless have really thorough instructions which point out what you’re supposed to be feeling throughout a range of motion in a clear and meaningful way, DIY fitness can very easily get overwhelming.

It can also get dangerous. Rich pointed out the importance of considering risk when trying to decide whether to get a coach. Working out is something that, if done incorrectly, can have serious consequences. So I’m excited to be working with Rich and his team, and hope they can keep my workout regimen on track and moving forward without preventing me from doing anything stupid in the name of GAINS.

But after our interview I realized that, like all great questions, the “Coach vs. DIY” debate applies to a lot more than just fitness. The discussion made me think about my decision to get help for the podcast.

As I was getting started, I got connected to Andy Goh at Gohjo Studios. After a kickoff interview, I decided to engage him for consulting services, specifically helping me with the design, implementation, and hosting of the podcast, as well as editing my first episode (and showing me some basic editing techniques for future reference).  Engaging Andy was a great decision.

But why did I do it? I don’t think it was because of risk; after all, if I messed something up trying to do it myself the only real risk is embarrassment. It’s not like I’m going to throw out my back screwing up a podcast. So, if not risk, then why did I do it? Well, there are a couple of factors I considered:

The first was resources. This is usually the main reason I don’t engage coaches. I don’t like spending money on, well… anything. But I quickly realized there was a big opportunity cost for not engaging a coach: time. There was one specific situation during the web hosting process where I got a vague error message, which could have grinded the process to a halt. Andy had encountered it before, and asked if I had an expired credit card on file with the account. Sure enough, that was the issue. I could have spent hours trying to figure that out, and having someone working over my shoulder with experience helped me work through many similar issues.

Which brings me to the second factor: learning. Again, learning is a common argument for DIY – you learn and grow best by doing, and so it stands to reason that the best way to learn is to just dive in. But the problem with the DIY approach is that sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know. Andy was able to introduce me to programs, platforms and best practices that I doubt I would have discovered on my own at first, and which would have been a huge pain to untangle had I taken off in the wrong direction on my own.

But if I’m being completely honest, the biggest reason I got help with the podcast is this:

Because I care about the podcast.

At the end of the day, my resistance to engaging a coach wasn’t because of the money – I recognized that my time was valuable, too. And it wasn’t about missing out on the experience – a good coach will make sure you still get that. I didn’t want to pay somebody to help me with the podcast because that would mean I had skin in the game. And if it didn’t work out, It would be proof that I’d tried, and failed.

If I never get help and don’t incur any costs, I can fiddle around with my pet project for the rest of my life and, if nothing ever comes of it, walk away with the comfort of knowing that I didn’t really try. I mean it’s not like I spent any money on it, right? It was an amusement, a distraction from day-to-day life. But if I pay somebody, it means I definitely care about its success on some level, and I’ve bought into the results, good or bad.

There’s no one-size-fits all to the DIY vs. Coaching question, but in this particular case I think I made the right choice. However, sometimes there’s no substitute for DIY – I’ll dig into that next week.

Starting A Podcast – The Beginning

My wife and I have two little girls, and my brother and his wife do, too. This is incredibly fun, and if you have a sibling around the same age as you I highly recommend you do the same. Being able to talk strategy, swap notes and (occasionally) vent with my brother has been such a rewarding experience. And one of the notes we swapped ended up being the genesis of my idea to start a podcast.

After his first daughter was born, my brother emailed the family letting us know that he had setup an email account for her, and invited us to send her an email to serve as a sort of time-capsule for when she was older. I loved this idea; I eventually did the same thing for my girls and, not to be outdone, committed to writing no less than 40 letters to them in 2019 in an effort to try and “Be A Better Parent” that year.

I’m so glad I did this – just reading over the subject lines is like flipping through a photo album, conjuring up fun memories (“The Big Snow”, “Symphony Park”) and not so fun memories (“ER Visit”, “Getting Overwhelmed”). But as I continued to write these I ran into a few problems:

  1. They were taking forever. I found myself doing a lot of self-editing in my emails to my girls, probably more than I did for the blog (no offense).
  2. My “voice” seemed off. It felt like I was either writing an advice column or just giving them a play-by-play of a specific event. It felt impersonal.
  3. I wasn’t enjoying it. Because I was writing these at the same time as the blog, it felt like I was trying to stretch out the same content between the two, and I didn’t like the results.

I was about to scrap the whole thing when I had an idea: I had my airpods, and the Voice Memo app on my phone… what if I just left them a voicemail and emailed it to them as an attachment? It might be fun for them to hear me speak my thoughts rather than write them. So I did just that: I got off the bus, and on my walk to work I left a 13 minute message about Lottie crawling, Lucy’s Eczema, Real Estate, and Three Amigos (or favorite Mexican restaurant).

And I absolutely loved it.

From then on it was pretty much all voicemails. They felt so much more comfortable, personal, and honest than the emails I’d written. I got into the process of recording them in the morning, playing them back later that day, identifying key talking points and putting them in the subject line of the email. Sometimes I would put some notes in the body of the email to give a little summary of what I talked about, and it was about that time that I realized what was happening: I was basically doing a podcast for my girls.

And that’s how I got the idea to do a podcast for everyone else.

And I found that this process helped me overcome a few of the normal hurdles for podcasting, like getting used to the idea of recording and listening to my own voice. Because by the time I sat down to do my first interview, I’d already listened to 40 “episodes” and 16+ hours of myself.

I’m not a natural at this, and it wasn’t always easy listening to those recordings. I hated the sound of my voice (although it’s growing on me). I cringed at the stuttering and the “like”s and “umm”s and the rambling incoherent thoughts. I wondered, “is this what I actually sound like? How does anybody take me seriously?” But I kept doing it, and over time it got easier.

But there was still a lot more to learn. For one thing, I had to figure out how to get these recordings out into the world. I decided to ask for help, which is something I’m not great at doing. More on that next week.

“How To Be A Be A Better ____.”

Imagine for a moment that you’re a single parent, living in a small one-bedroom apartment in a big city with your three-year-old daughter (for some of you this won’t require much imagination). And you dream of making a better life for yourself and your daughter by writing a best-selling novel.

So every night you put her to bed around 7:00, pour a cup of coffee and sit down at the kitchen table to write. She’s curious, of course. Some nights you hear the bedroom door creak open and you find her standing there in her pajamas, peeking through the doorway. You explain to her that she needs to go to bed, and it goes about as well as when anyone tries to explain bedtime to a three year old. Most nights she doesn’t leave you alone until 8:30, maybe 9:00. But once she’s down you write, and do the best you can with the time you have to yourself.

Eventually you submit a manuscript to a publisher, and it gets rejected. You get frustrated – you know deep down it wasn’t your best work. If you just had more time you know you could write something great. Your daughter is getting older, and now she can engage in simple conversations. She asks you what’s wrong. You explain that you’re writing stories, just like the ones you read to her at night, and that you really need peace and quiet to write.

Miraculously, the two of you reach a compromise: she can stay up until 8:00 in the kitchen for one hour of “quiet time.” She can read books or play quietly with her toys, and you get an extra hour of time to write in silence.

Well, almost silence. She keeps asking about what you’re writing. Of course it’s much too complicated to explain to someone her age but she keeps asking:

“What’s it about? What’s it about? What’s it about?”

You finally say it’s about a girl and a boy who fall in love but then something happens and they can’t be together. She asks if the girl is a princess, and you laugh and say no. You don’t bother explaining that the story is set in Midtown Manhattan and that the protagonist is far more complex than a fairytale character. Your daughter yawns, suggests the story might be more fun if the girl were a princess, and you carry her to bed.

Years go by, and more of your stories get rejected. Your daughter continues to stay up past her bedtime, giving you more unsolicited advice involving princesses and dragons and knights in shining armor. You want to be encouraging and so you concede a few points here and there, just so she feels like she’s contributing. After all, the protagonist is kind of a princess. Just to make it easier, you start to refer to the character as “the princess” when discussing the story with your daughter, and eventually you do the same with the other characters.

And then one evening you get really stuck. You just can’t get past a certain part of the plot. Your daughter is following the story by now, and has come up with a new refrain:

“What happens next? What happens next? What happens next?”

In a desperate attempt to get her to shut up so you can concentrate you just spill out everything – you tell her all the ideas you’ve had and explain why none of them work and how you’re going to have to start the entire thing from scratch. She shrugs her shoulders and says,

“Why doesn’t the prince just tell her he’s sorry?”

That’s it! Now you know exactly what happens next. But before jumping back in you compose yourself, smile at your daughter and say, “That’s a good idea.”

And then you pull up a chair.

She sits down, and then the adventure really begins. You start circling paragraphs and explaining to her what you were trying to do. She makes playful suggestions, most of them bad. But over time you notice that they’re getting better. After a while, you start to rely on them.

Now you’re the one keeping her up past her bedtime. Sometimes you push her too hard – you point to a problem and ask her to figure it out and she can’t and you can’t and now you’re yelling at each other and it’s not fun anymore and she goes to her room and slams the door. You learn that you have to keep it fun, otherwise she won’t come back.

More years go by, and then one night the two of you find yourselves staring at a masterpiece. It’s ready, and you both know it. As you pack the manuscript in your bag she’s chattering a mile-a-minute, telling you to make sure you tell the publisher this and that and make sure that they know why this character is important and that the princess and the knight were actually in love all along they just didn’t know it yet. You smile and nod and put her to bed, but neither of you get much sleep. You go to meet with the publishers that afternoon.

And it gets rejected. Not just rejected – they absolutely tear it apart. You blow up, tell them that they have no idea what they’re talking about, and storm out. You’re fighting away tears as you walk in the door of your apartment.

She made dinner. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with milk and chips laid out on paper towels on the kitchen table. She put music on, but you can’t hear it over the sound of her squealing as she snatches the manuscript from your hands:

“What did they say? What did they say? What did they say?”

And telling her is worse than you could have possibly imagined.

You’re frustrated, but she’s devastated.

She throws the manuscript across the room, knocking over the dinner and spilling the milk. She says she hates the publisher and you and the story and she never wants to write anything again. She runs into her room and slams the door.

You start to clean up the kitchen in silence, glancing at the door once in a while, imagining her huddled in the corner of her bed. You remember that she’s just a kid. Then you remember she’s your kid.

And it’s time you earned your keep as a parent.

She has to come out. Knock, yell, slam, kick down the damn door if you have to but get her out of that room. And when she’s standing in the kitchen in her pajamas, cheeks soaked, lips quivering, the last page of the manuscript clutched in her tiny hand, you grab her by the shoulders, look her in the eyes, and say,

“I’m so sorry.”

Not because the work wasn’t good enough – you both know you tried your best. And not because the world can be vicious – you know that’s never going to change.

You tell her you’re sorry it took you so long to pull up a chair.

If you do this properly, she’ll forgive you. She’ll sit down, and the two of you will start a new adventure – a better one.

Podcast Episode 2: “Time Kills All Deals.” Interview with Henri Gresset, Childress Klein

In this episode of the New Year’s Revolutionary podcast, I had the privilege of interviewing Henri Gresset, commercial broker at Childress Klein and my friend for over 20 years. Henri’s always been the guy at the party connecting the most interesting people in the room to discuss the most interesting topics of the night. And he’s always made it look easy – I’m gonna try to figure out the details.

To listen to the episode, click here.

Considering we’ve been friends since middle school, I thought I knew Henri pretty well. And so I drew up questions to discuss a few of Henri’s talents that I wanted to explore. Specifically:

  1. His ability to connect and maintain relationships with interesting people, and
  2. His relentless approach to getting things on the calendar and keeping things moving.

And we definitely got into those – but as I was re-listened to the episode I realized that this wasn’t just an episode about life-hacks and psychological tactics. There was a deeper, recurring theme here:

Time.

Henri Gresset is fiercely protective of his time. As a result, he’s intentional and present when interacting with others, who can’t help but be drawn to his undivided attention. Thank you, Henri. You literally taught me the meaning of la joie de vivre. Here’s to the next 20 years.

David & Henri

Show Notes:

  • How Henri and I met [00:45]
  • How Henri got into commercial real estate, Childress Klein [02:20]
  • Comparing commercial and residential real estate brokerage [05:07]
  • Industry trends, adaptive reuse [06:21]
  • “Time kills all deals” [9:19]
  • Tim Ferriss and The 4-Hour Workweek [10:43]
  • Henri’s approach to consuming and prioritizing nonfiction [12:35]
  • Morning routines (where Henri explains the benefits of a 30-minute snooze session) [15:39]
  • Organization, scheduling, daily and weekly planning [18:05]
  • The benefits of travel [20:02]
  • How Henri plans to “Do Better This Year.” [21:58]

References

“Be More Productive.” Work/Life Balance (And Grinding).

When it comes to video games, the Role Playing Game (RPG) genre has always held a special place in my heart. In an RPG, you play the role of a character on an adventure in some sort of immersive world. Part of the fun is watching your character grow and develop as you explore new frontiers and work toward some greater goal or quest. Games like Pokemon, EarthBound, and Chrono Trigger are good examples. If you’re engaging in random turn-based battles with monsters, getting experience points and gold and “leveling up” in the process, chances are you’re playing an RPG (and I’m jealous).

And I can’t think of a better way to get acquainted with the genre than the first RPG I ever played: Final Fantasy.  I was maybe 12 or 13 at the time, and I’ll always remember the first time I encountered Ogres:

Image result for final fantasy 1 ogres

That’s how I first got introduced to grinding. Not the type of grinding one might do at a club (which, having attended a few middle school dances, I was unfortunately all too familiar with). I’m talking about video game grinding. Techopedia provides a great definition:

Grinding refers to the playing time spent doing repetitive tasks within a game to unlock a particular game item or to build the experience needed to progress smoothly through the gameGrinding most commonly involves killing the same set of opponents over and over in order to gain experience points or gold.

When I first encountered these Ogres, they were tough. My party took a lot of damage and barely survived the battle; however, when we won the day I was pleasantly surprised to see that defeating the Ogres yielded a ton of experience points and they were loaded with gold. Punching above my weight was worth it – enough fights with these guys and I could quickly level up my party, then stroll into a nearby town with enough gold to arm my team with the best equipment on the market before continuing on with my adventure. And so I stuck around, wandering around the forest killing Ogres, again and again and again. That’s grinding.

And I did it for hours.

Any gamer worth his salt has done something like this. Maybe you mastered all the mini-games in Ocarina of Time, getting all your quiver upgrades and your heart pieces and your rupees before storming Ganon’s Castle. Maybe you played the same Mega Man level again and again because you knew it had multiple Energy Tanks and you wanted to max them out before going after Dr. Wiley. Or perhaps you simply took the time to stumble around in the darkness of the Caverns in Goldeneye, dutifully destroying every box in the arms cache to load up on ammunition.

At some point, you postponed the adventure and engaged in some sort repetitive, perhaps even tedious, activity, either for your later benefit or out of some intrinsic need for “completeness.” And at that point, you had to ask yourself:

Is this work, or is this fun?

Some genres blur the lines even more. Simulators such as Sim City and Harvest Moon involve performing tasks that people actually get paid to do in real life. My favorite example is from The Office where Dwight Schrute creates a Second Life character who is also a paper salesman named Dwight.

I bring this up because people talk a lot about work/life balance, and I don’t really like the concept. It frames “work” as this tedious thing that, unfortunately, I have to do in order to support “life,” which is the fun thing I get to do after hours with my family and friends.

But if grinding in video games is so tedious, why do we tolerate it?

I think it’s because, on some level, it is fun. It’s fun to see progress. It’s fun to identify opportunities for efficiency and competitive advantage and leverage the hell out of them. And it’s fun to think about how all this work is going to pay off when you go into your next battle, over-prepared and ready for anything. And all these fun activities are things I can, and should, be enjoying at the office.

Sometimes what I do at the office feels like fun. And sometimes what I do at home feels like work. And that’s OK.

At the end of the day, there is no work/life balance. There’s just life, and so the best you can ask of yourself is to be present in the activity you’re doing, regardless of how you label it.

“Be More Productive.” Should I Plan My Weekends?

It’s Saturday afternoon, and my one-year-old woke up from her nap early. The plan was to write during this time, and so now I’m trying to draft this post and watch Pinocchio at the same time.  But I’m not complaining – she seems to be enjoying the movie, and it feels like I’m watching it for the first time because I’ve forgotten everything about it (like the terrifying “donkey transformation” scene, for example).

Sometimes it’s nice when plans go off-track. In my interview with Scott we talked about how uncertainty and spontaneity aren’t just fun, they’re essential to the human experience. We can’t control everything, and that’s OK. Some of the best moments are the ones where things go sideways.

Still, I’m a big advocate of planning. Last year my goal was to plan my day 183 times (over 50% of the year). I came up a bit short, only planning 171 days. But I was happy with the results, and wanted to set an even loftier goal this year of 300 days. That’s almost twice as many days as I did before, but I have some plans for closing the gap.

For one thing, like any other habit it got easier the more I did it, so towards the end of the year I was doing it a lot more. But still, even if I kept the pace I had in Q4 2019, I wouldn’t get to 300 unless I made one, big change: I would need to start planning on the weekends.

In 2019 I viewed my planning exercise as a “work” thing. It started as soon as I got in the office, and helped me plan, prioritize and execute my tasks for the day. But when the weekend came, no more planning. Planning is so rigid, so restrained – it makes the weekend sound like work. And after all,

work

But as I look back on what I did in 2019 and what I hope to do in 2020 I have to ask myself: is planning my weekend really such a bad thing? Does applying plans to my “time-off” take all the fun out of it? I think about when my wife and I went to Italy and how we took pride in the fact that we didn’t have “plans.” A good chunk of our time was just spent wandering, and some of our best memories stemmed from completely unexpected events (like getting robbed).

But still… we had plans. We booked flights which established a time-frame, identified cities that we wanted to see and planned to visit them in a logical order. We determined how long we wanted to spend in each city based on things we wanted do and how long we thought those things would take and we booked accommodations. We got advice from friends and family which resulted in two guided tours both of which were highlights of the trip.

We stopped there, but we could have gone further. We could have picked a few restaurants beforehand, established specific routes for site-seeing. If we really wanted to, we could have planned every single step of the trip. Is that “doing it wrong?” What if we’d taken the opposite approach? What if when we first came up with the idea, drinking jalapeno pale ales beneath the low lights at the bar in Alexander Michael’s restaurant, we’d just bought one-way tickets and taken an Uber to the airport?

When it comes to your free time, what’s the “right” way to do it?

I think the answer is that it’s different for everybody. For me personally, I like a little structure. The balance we struck in Italy was just about perfect for me, so why not take the same approach with my weekends?

I’ve been experimenting with this; I’ve planned 28 days through February 8th, and three of them have been Saturdays or Sundays. Weekend plans might not be terribly detailed, but they do help. Today for example our girls had swim lessons in the morning and I was meeting someone for lunch after. As we were leaving for swim Liz got a client call she needed to take. Aware of both our commitments, I simply texted Liz that I was going to go ahead and put the girls in the car and take them. She could drive separately, meet us there and I could just leave from swim directly to meet my friend for lunch. No rush, no stress.

And everything was fine until I started driving and the car’s Bluetooth picked up Liz’s call and suddenly she couldn’t hear the client and all her client could hear was me giving my girls a pep-talk about keeping their goggles on.

The best experiences might be the ones where things go sideways – but paradoxically, having a little structure can actually give you the freedom to have those experiences in the first place.