Change Your Medium to Change Your Results

For years, and this is pretty embarrassing to admit, I had the goal to write blog posts. I learned a lot about website development. WordPress became a tool I knew well. Recently Hugo and static site generators have been my favorite hobby. I loved everything about website development. (Here comes the embarrassing part.) But I hated writing content.

I would fire up my favorite text editor or focused writing app and stare at the screen. Nothing came easily. I could sometimes eek out a post or two but never more and never for more than a few days at a time. My perception from my student days that I was a good writer took hit after hit because I couldn’t force myself to write posts consistently.

This all changed in August 2019. I had already started the process of moving most of the rest of my writing, from meeting notes to to do lists, back onto pen and paper. The day I decided to try and write a blog post long form on paper I felt the writer’s block dam burst and the words flowed.

This doesn’t mean that writing is easy for me. I don’t know if that will ever be true. But over the last six weeks I have finally been able to consistently write content that I want to share.

Changing my medium made all the difference.

I’ve found this works in a lot of areas. I now write notes to my kids instead of texts. They read them! They even reply in kind! Sending out handwritten invitations to dinner gets much better responses than an emails. And a snail mail letter makes an impression that a thousand pings or texts can’t match.

This isn’t a call for reversion away from technology. Just don’t count out the power of mediums you might not normally consider. Changing your environment and your medium can free your mind to do better work.


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You Are a Mashup of What You Choose

One of my favorite writers, Austin Kleon, wrote in his book Steal Like an Artist of how we are all mashups. From our genetics to our creative influences, we are the sum of many parts.

You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences. The German writer Goethe said ‘We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.’

We are also shaped by our habits. I worry that in my life I too often choose to dive into a screen rather than spending time thinking or reading. Activities that used to be confined to our computers, such as social media, now live in our pockets and are available all the time.

Making hard decisions about what we allow on our devices can make a huge difference in our quality of life.

I don’t need a world of on-demand video on my phone. If it’s there I will spend time watching it.

I don’t need Twitter (or Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, or Pinterest) on my phone. I’ll never be bored enough to get the benefits of boredom if I’m never more than a moment away from more content.

I don’t need notifications for most apps. Notifications pull my attention away from doing work (or anything else!) deeply and with quality. Context switching is brutal and I want to avoid it whenever possible.

Most of the convenience our devices give us is garbage. It’s input we should avoid. I need to curate the influences in my life because those influences shape who I am.


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Get Comfortable With Your Own Mind

One of the issues I see in the youth I work with is a need for constant entertainment. It makes sense; all the entertainment in the world exists on that small screen we carry around in our pocket. We have lost the ability to tolerate boredom.

This is a problem because an idle mind is the fertile ground that ideas grow in. In my life I’ve seen the truth of the old saying that creative ideas come while you’re in bed, in the bath, or on the bus. (For me it’s more like while mowing the lawn, driving, or swimming, but the premise is the same.) If we don’t give your mind input it’s amazing what it will create on its own.

But this inability to deal with boredom is deeper than just a habit of looking at our phones. If we don’t spend time alone with our mind we start to feel uncomfortable when we’re “alone with ourselves.” Introspection and pondering are skills that need to be developed.

Meditation is a great way to start getting comfortable with our own mind. If you’ve never tried meditation a good place to start is the free Oak Meditation app. Most meditation apps seem to feel you need a monthly subscription to be mindful. Oak is not one of those.

However you do it, spend more time alone with your mind. Go for a walk without your phone or headphones, sit calmly and think about your day, or try doing the dishing while going over problem in your mind. It will lower the stress in your life. You’ll also discover that you’re a pretty great person to spend time alone with.


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Time to Get a Library Card

For 10 years I lived in the wonderful land of Taiwan. It’s safe, filled with really great people, and relatively cheap. Sure I missed my family and friends back in the US, but technology meant we could have video chats and phone calls which helped a lot.

The thing I missed the most was the libraries!

The library in my hometown is more than just a place to check out books. It has internet access, nice areas to work or read, educational programs, access to materials from nearly any library in the country, and knowledgable staff. The digital resources it gives patrons access to largely replace the need for an Audible or Kindle Unlimited subscription, or the need to buy online courses. It’s an amazing place.

Since we moved back it has become one of the places our family gravitates to. I love seeing my kids curled up with a book. I also love seeing my wife get excited for the free classes they offer.

September is Library Card Sign-up Month. If you don’t have one yet, please seek out your local library and get a card. Take a friend or family member with you and get them one too.

We pay for libraries with our taxes. Get the most value for that money paid by being a frequent patron. I personally earmark my tax dollars to go towards libraries and national parks. 😉


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The Joy of Artistry

Today I watched an amazing jazz pianist play in a way that filled me with joy. Yes, he was teaching a class full of young vocalists who don’t always hit the right notes or come in at the right time. This wasn’t a gala performance at the Kennedy Center. But his playing was both superb and infectious. It made me want to get out an instrument and practice!

Seeing mastery in action is amazing and awe inspiring. We don’t see the years of hard practice, the disappointments and trials that shaped the artistry we hear today. But knowing those things were part of his journey in one way or another make celebrating his achievements even more fun.

Here is someone who strives! In that moment I heard beauty, joy, and soul come out of his playing. I’m so grateful for the artists who make experiences like this possible.

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to go and practice making some art.


For those that are curious, the amazing pianist is Mr. Charles Williams. He teaches at the Kansas City Jazz Academy and two of my children have the privilege of studying with him there.


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Hope for the Future

Today a child taught me there is hope. Our global environmental situation is a scary one. It’s easy to feel hopeless.

For the last month since returning to the US from Asia, I have felt hopeless. There are so many changes needed and anything I do has so little effect. At least that’s how it feels.

Today I saw a young boy teaching another young child how to recycle. He stopped the child from throwing away a recyclable and took the child over to the recycle bin instead. It was such a small thing, but it filled me with hope.

Maybe our hope for the future is safe. Maybe we need to trust in the kids around us, teach them well, and support them as they change the world in ways we couldn’t.

We don’t get to be Daniel LaRusso. But we can be Mr. Miyagi.


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Recognizing Bias through Self Reflection

“Your personal experiences make up maybe 0.00000001% of what’s happened in the world but maybe 80% of how you think the world works… We’re all biased to our own personal history.” – Morgan Housel

A huge challenge working in teams is overcoming bias. No matter who we are or what our background we have some bias. It’s hard to make good decisions when bias gets in the way.

How can we recognize our own bias? How can we make good decisions despite it? Look out for times when you think of someone as “the other.” When a thought like this crosses my mind I try to immediately reframe the situation. Would that statement seem reasonable coming out of my mouth? What about someone I deeply respect? Would I have the same reaction in that case?

Examining our feelings can help us to understand where our comfort zone ends. That’s where our work begins. Self reflection is the first step to creating a more inclusive and vibrant team.


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Using an Apple Watch with Bluetooth Off

This is a pretty niche thing to do. I wear an Apple Watch for the convenience, but I’m also very concerned with how terrible Bluetooth is from a security perspective. Leaving Bluetooth on all the time on your phone is a terrible idea. (This is well documented).

I went off in search of information on if it’s possible to use an Apple Watch without iPhone’s Bluetooth turned on (TL;DR Yes!) and whether it’s worth by time to do so (TL;DR more complicated by still Yes!).

Apple has a page that lists all the functions of an Apple Watch that work independent of a phone. There are three categories of use in this situation. (And to be clear, when your phone’s Bluetooth is turned off you have severed the direct connection between the phone and watch, so it’s just like having a watch that’s set up but not paired to a phone.)

1. On a watch without Wi-Fi, cellular, or a phone connection you can use these features:

2. On a watch with a Wi-Fi connection but no cellular or phone

The caveat here is that once you leave the WiFi connection you lose anything internet connected.

3. On a watch with cellular connection but no phone

If your watch is connected to a cellular network, but your iPhone isn’t nearby, your watch can do the same things that it can when using Wi-Fi.

My watch doesn’t have a cellular connection but it does support Wi- Fi. I’ve been using it without connecting to my phone for a few weeks and I can barely tell the difference. Alerts come through the same, though with a very slight delay. I generally keep my phone on silent and I feel a buzz on the phone a half second before a buzz on the watch.

Works for me

When do I reconnect? I’ve found driving to be one time the connection is really nice. Looking at Apple Maps directions on my watch while driving is one of the most convenient aspects of the watch. When I get to my destination I simply pull out my phone, call up Siri, and turn off Bluetooth.

The other thing I’ve discovered is the very few times I actually need Bluetooth on my iPhone turned on: using Airpods or connecting to a keyboard. The solution for those times is the same: call up Siri and turn Bluetooth on, then turn it off the same way when I’m done with the accessory. It is important to note that newer versions of iOS do not allow you to completely turn off Bluetooth through the control center. You need to either go into Settings > Bluetooth or use Siri to turn it off completely.


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In a Digital World We Miss 65% of the Message

I read in interesting article that got me thinking about communication. Ray Birdwhistell wrote in “Kinesics and Context: Essays on Body Motion Communication” that words carry no more than 30-35% of a conversation or interaction. This isn’t to say that words aren’t important, but the non-verbal aspects of interactions carry a lot of weight.1

In a world where more and more of our interaction happens digitally, we are missing out on a lot of context. This isn’t exactly a new problem. For much of modern history people communicated in writing and experienced the same problem. Handwriting did help in some ways—you can spot emotions in the way people write much better than you can in type. Those types of context clues are still far more than we get when we’re communicating in texts and DMs.

In my job were we’re mostly working remotely this is something we worry about. We call meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page. I know I have misunderstood a colleague by reading tone into a message that wasn’t really there. We realize this can cause problems so we try to self correct by supplementing our digital, written communication with voice and video communication.

It is important to take the time to have real conversations so we can appreciate the nuance and full spectrum of meaning in the messages we receive. It will likely mean slower communication, but it will be much richer.


Footnotes

  1. https://www.silentcommunication.org/single-post/2016/03/20/17-Non-verbal-communication-percentage. You’ve probably heard a different statistic. Albert Mehrabian’s 1970 study’s is often misquoted to mean that non-verbal communication makes up 93% of all communication.

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Assume the Best in Others, Despite Any Evidence to the Contrary

I had a friend years ago who’s father owned an exercise equipment company. His father gave an interview that always stuck with me. His favorite line was “work hard, play hard, sleep well.” Recently we went through some technical issues at work and customers contact us to complain. That’s always uncomfortable, but more so when you are genuinely trying to be forthcoming and honest.

We know what goes on in our own mind and what our intentions are. We have a good idea about the intentions of people close to us. It’s so hard to feel satisfied that people outside our immediate circle are working in good faith. We’re conditioned to assume the worst, and for some very good reasons. But if we allow that to be our default assumption about everyone we miss out on the joy that comes from understanding others.

I’m going to assume the customer that accused me of hiding my intentions just hasn’t learned this skill yet. He is likely a delightful person who is having a bad day. His anger helps him right now, and I accept that. Eventually he’ll either come around or he’ll move on.

As for me, I will be fine either way. I know we’ve done a good job. I’ll allow his anger to give me a chance to practice skills that will serve me for years to come. This moment could be an important milestone that I will look back on with fondness in the future.

I will sleep well tonight knowing that I did my best work today.


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