there is too much information out there, far too much than we need on a day to day basis. i used to want to be the smartest person alive, but i realized that this didn’t make sense. even if i knew everything, would i use that information to get through my day? maybe, maybe not. more likely not.
joi ito presents the idea of pulling informational resources as you need them rather than stocking up and saving them. this makes sense – i don’t need to memorize the directions to a new restaurant, i can pull up that information on my phone. i don’t have to remember all my friends’ phone numbers, i get them as i need them.
i like to think of information, especially the information in books, in the same way i think about food: i eat enough of it to get me from one place to another. not only does this minimize the amount of reading and research i have to do, it also narrows its scope in a good way: “what do i need to learn today to get me to the next step of my grand plan?” Each informational “meal” provides us with cognitive energy to figure out the problems in front of us, and eventually we just have it all stored in our bones through repeated use and practice.
“productivity” sucks, because the culture around it encourages us to maximize what we produce without encouraging us to take care of ourselves. look around you: so many self-help books, articles, videos and podcasts exist just to remind us that we are worth something.
i have a small e-mail folder called “good job”. it’s where i put the e-mails that highlight work that i am proud of. sometimes its kudos from a co-worker. other times it is a newsletter that i wrote that turned out really well. my “good job” folder helps me get in the habit of praising and rewarding myself every once in a while.
for the past couple days, i have been trying to be better at listening to my body. if i sit in front of a computer screen for too long, i start feeling gross (you can possibly relate). but even worse, if i work too hard on a certain project, my brain eventually just stops being productive. it feels like i am banging my head against a wall. when i feel stuck like this, it is tempting to try and watch some motivational videos or to try and muscle through it.
but i have found the best thing i can do is just stop and take a break. today, the break went a little longer than usual. i reclined on my couch and let my brain cool off, took a nap, woke up, drank water, and tried to come back. it didn’t happen until hours later that night, but when i was finally “repaired”, i had a slew of new ideas, deeper feelings, and a refreshed sense of direction.
of course, this may just be a me thing. but i know that friends who work on problems for too long (a lot of these folks are programmers), and they all have to almost re-teach themselves the importance of knowing when to walk away, splash water on your face, and come back with a new set of eyes. in our “always on” culture, i think this is not as obvious as we would like it to be, and part of the first step is listening to your body when it tells you that something isn’t right.
today i had a big break, and it would have meant nothing if i hadn’t had been working on my own projects in the meantime. i met someone with a lot of resources, and they asked me “what do you do?” and i showed them my interview series, grounded in ongoing research that i do with the seriousness i bring to every job. they were impressed, and handed me their card.
this is a huge deal. one of my favorite quotes is from louis pasteur: “fortune favors the prepared mind”. if we are given an opportunity, we are more likely to grab it if we have primed our brains to receive it. this is why i always advocate for folks to work on projects, no matter how small or silly they seem. having a body of work to show for your interests separates you from the swaths of people who just talk and do nothing.
a lot of my friends are trying to run a business on their own. the tools available allow them to do this, but at a certain point they can’t do it alone. their ambition gets the best of them, and they bite off a little bit more than they can chew. i fall into this category as well, which is why i start and stop on so many projects.
there’s only so much one person can do before you have to bring in help. the problem is often that you don’t have the capital to pay others to share your vision. if this is the case, you don’t have a viable business model. you have to rethink your approach.
if you’re keeping costs low by running a business by yourself until it is profitable, you have to set achievable goals. this means realizing that you can’t compete with the big companies that have dedicated teams to product development and marketing. you are one person, so make sure that your online shop has moving parts that can be operated by one person.
i wish that i could write a full-on magazine. but this requires a team of staff writers, editors, graphic designers, and photographers. this blog is what i can reasonably expect to do as one person. hopefully, if we prove that we can do this well on our own, we can grow and become valuable enough to either join another team or add someone to ours.
i want things to happen very quickly, and unfortunately that’s an unrealistic expectation. so, i need to develop systems to ensure that i don’t get ahead of myself. one of those things is making a considered effort to slow down. another is giving myself projects that i can complete very quickly, or in a day. if i divide a project up into these specific chunks of constructions, suddenly i’ll have a big final product at the end.
i always forget this, the fact that what we do with our lives is what we do with our days. routines, then, help dramatically with my ability to finish a huge task. i know i will spend a little time every day, and this gives me comfort and allows me to envision the final project. for example, if i write a book, i need to know that i will write 600 words a day, and i need to know that i will have time every day to do that specific thing.
right now, i lack direction because i don’t clearly see my end goal. so i am gathering information and trying to build up my plan. it is loose, there are a ton of tangents, but i know that if i make at least one thing today, i’ll be that much closer to having a fully fleshed out final project a year from now.
every day, we have the power to choose how we look at things. our perspective has the strongest influence on how we make decisions. so, it makes sense that we should shake up our perspective every once in a while to look at our problems from a new angle.
i like doing a weekly “zoom out”. this means that i take a step back, and consider my plans in terms of a ten-year strategy. a zoom out could also mean imagining where my plan fits into the global economy. it could also mean seeing how i fit into the general schematics of a city.
changing your perspective could also mean zooming in. you’re smart, you can probably find a number of creative ways to alter your worldview. the point is, if you feel stuck, it can help to change your perspective. if you don’t know how to do this, talk to a friend, pick up a book, or listen to a podcast. being open to the thoughts of someone else is by definition taking a different point of view. this, oftentimes, is all the push you need to realize what you’ve been missing.