30 days with a bullet journal

In September I started keeping a bullet journal. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it’s basically just like it sounds: a cross between a bulleted list and a journal. It’s a way to keep track of what you do each day, as succinctly as possible.


A search through Pinterest or Instagram will reveal some ridiculously complex and artistic bullet journals. It seems to have become a popular way to show off your doodling skills in the name of productivity.

A photo posted by Mary J. (@maryj13) on

These are not my journals.

I had no such aspirations. Instead, I was looking for a simple way to track what I was accomplishing throughout the days and weeks.

I used my bullet journal daily through the month of September, which was 30 days as of yesterday. Here are my impressions so far.

Wait, not digital?

Starting off I had doubts about the idea of a physical notebook. Ever since I was about 12 I’ve been obsessing over technology and the ways it makes our lives easier and better. At that time I saved up something like $150 and bought a PDA. If you’re younger than me, a PDA (personal digital assistant) was the grandaddy of the smart phone. It had a calendar, address book, to-do list, notepad, and email if you were lucky. The later versions had a basic web browser built in, right before they were killed off by the release of the iPhone. At the time I was convinced that my productivity and memory recall would increase exponentially if only I had one of these magical devices.

The PDA didn’t change my life significantly, but I continued to live under the assumption that technology was making my life much easier. As a result, physically writing something down seemed backwards and counter-productive.

I bit the bullet (no pun intended) and bought a Moleskine journal (actually I bought 3 of them, because you can never have enough fancy hipster journals). Creating the index and future log was fun, but I seriously doubted whether I would keep this up for long.

As it turns out, the physical aspect played out in my favor. I carried the journal around in my backpack right in front of my laptop, which meant that I had no choice but to see it every day when I sat down to work. I got into the habit of pulling it out right at the start of the day and setting it down beside my laptop. In that spot it served as a visual reminder that I had goals for the day.

The day-to-day experience

The act of filling out the day’s milestones and marking them as complete was almost therapeutic. When I didn’t make the progress I had hoped, it served as a reminder that I had missed something (this happened often).

Unlike the examples I referenced above, my day-to-day journaling looks mind-numbingly similar. Each day has it’s own bulleted list, which I filled out as the day progressed. I used the most barebones notation: • bullets are tasks, – dashes are notes or reference items, and º circles are meetings or events.

There were a few instances where I got brave and changed the format; these were all for meetings, where I just dropped any sort of notation and wrote my scattered thoughts line-by-line until the meeting was over. Otherwise, I stuck entirely to the daily format.

Retrospective

Now that a month has past, it’s time to create a new month calendar in the journal. One of the key points of bullet journaling is migration: reviewing all unfinished tasks or goals in the past month and migrating them forward as necessary.

Having just completed migrating all of last month’s tasks, I think it’s the most valuable part of a bullet journal. With my other productivity/organization setups, unfinished tasks ended up in a Someday list which was subsequently ignored. Tasks would disappear for months or years, if not forever. With migration, I’m forced to go back and reassess any unfinished business to see if I still need to pay attention to it.

So far my experience with the bullet journal has been positive. I’ll continue to use it to track my progress through the month. I don’t foresee a whole lot of changes to the format.

Ultimately, the bullet journal is just a way to document what’s happened; it’s my choices during the day-to-day grind that make the difference. Having tried so many to-do lists and productivity hacks over the years, I’m painfully aware that the real gains come from hard work and persistence.

If you’re curious about bullet journals, visit the website – or if you’re looking for doodling inspiration, look at the #bulletjournal hashtag on Instagram.

Experiment: The Argument Clinic

Last week I read about The People Walker, a guy from San Fransisco that is getting paid to walk people. It’s is one of those poster-boy stories for Inc Magazine; someone making money with nothing but a weird idea.

When I read something like this, I get envious. Having put in a lot of work and time to pursue ideas that just never got the attention I thought they deserved, there’s a feeling of entitlement that kicks in. It’s the mind’s way of shedding responsibility. What makes this guy so lucky? I’d never get paid to do something as dumb as walking around.

This time, though, I decided to try out a stupid idea of my own. I sat down and started writing. Ten minutes later I had this Craigslist post:

Argument Clinic craigslist ad

I hit publish and promptly forgot about it. I didn’t even remember I had put it up until this showed up in my inbox.

Weird response to Craigslist ad

I started off excited – I was going to get paid! – but my interest quickly waned. This sounded more like some sort of weird fetish than an argument. Even if it was just a confidence-building exercise, it sounded oddly over-structured and, honestly, just a bit too weird for me.

I politely declined, and reposted the ad. Let’s see what another week brings.

Did someone really drill a hole in their iPhone?

Last week, following Apple’s announcement that the new iPhone 7 wouldn’t have a headphone jack, some clever chap made a video claiming a secret hack for adding a DIY jack to your brand-new phone by drilling a hole in it.

Seriously, he takes an iPhone, clamps it in a vice, and puts a hole in it with a 3.5mm drill bit. It’s a very expensive bit of satire, but funny nonetheless.

Then, the YouTube comments started blowing up with users reporting that they had tried it with disastrous results.

iphone-7-portal-to-hell

Lots of comments come across as satirical responses, like Simon T’s comment above. But some of them are frighteningly serious.

Woman drills headphone jack in iPhone 7

Man is angry about wrecking iPhone 7 by drilling headphone jack

Of course, news outlets are having a heyday with the comments, warning their readers against drilling into their phones and reporting about voided warranties and gullible YouTubers. Even Fortune got in on the action.

Everyone is reporting users drilling into new iPhones. But are they?

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-4-44-35-pmscreen-shot-2016-09-26-at-4-47-04-pm

122 shares on LinkedIn? I didn’t know there were that many people using it.

But are there real, live people falling for this and drilling holes in their brand-new iPhones? It’s fun to believe that people would be that stupid, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it has happened. After reading through the top trending stories with headlines like “Drilling hole in iPhone video fools dumb customers” and “People Are Drilling In Headphone Jacks” (thanks Fortune), I found no actual reports of individual incidents; only references to comments on the YouTube video. Someone has been trolled here… and I’m not entirely sure who it was.

If you really drilled a hole in your iPhone, let me know. For security purposes, don’t send it over the internet; just set your house on fire and use the smoke to signal me.

Here’s the original video:


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Week In Review #3

Week In Review 3

Finds

Week In Review #2

week-in-review

Finds

  • Start – MVP-building service
  • PocketChip – $69 Nintendo-esqe pocket computer
  • Bills by Grandson (Canadian trap-rock)

 

Week In Review #1

week-in-review

  • Published More YouTubers, fewer astronauts
    Inspired by a Seth Godin post and something Jason Zook wrote.
  • Published the online version of Because It Matters
    Benjamin and I wrote this a few years back, but just now made it available free online.
  • Created an accountability follow-up for the Client Excuses course
    After creating the course, I wanted to make sure people were sticking it out.
  • Published My WordPress Starter Pack
    I included my own theme, Baselayer, to get started super-fast. A little rough around the edges right now, I’ll clean this up later.
  • Weekend photo challenge: silhouettes

Finds

More YouTubers, fewer astronauts

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a cowboy. I would dress up in my version of Western attire, which consisted of cowboy boots, a leather vest, jeans, and a turtleneck. It was the height of cowboy fashion to my 5-year-old brain.

Me exploring career opportunities as a kid.

Cowboy is a common career choice among children, along with doctor, astronaut, fireman, and President of the United States. We encourage kids to dream big and shoot for the stars, even when their dreams are unlikely or even downright impossible. “It’s good for them,” we say. “Don’t lose the innocence.”

Strangely, once we reach a certain age those expectations change. At sixteen, Mom and Dad are no longer impressed when you say you want to be an astronaut. “If you’re going to live around here you’d better earn your keep,” they say, and that means giving up those childhood fantasies and making minimum wage at a local fast-food joint.

Societally, we treat this transition from dreams to day jobs as the tragic, inevitable death of childhood optimism. It’s a story we love to tell ourselves, blaming the cold, hard world for killing our noble aspirations. We were so brave, we tell ourselves. To be a child again.

But what if we aim high for the same reason we aim low?

They don’t accept 5-year-olds into the space program. Not the Presidency either. And while it’s fine to encourage long-term goals, too often we have the opposite effect: instead of encouraging people to act, we’re telling them they should wait. Wait until you’re older. Wait until you’re more skilled. Wait until you’re done with college. You can be all these things later. Not now.

On the other hand, there are a lot of things that people can be right now. They don’t require degrees; they don’t have age limits. For the able and willing, all they require is action.

Author. Photographer. Chef. Actor. Runner. YouTuber. Storyteller. Artist.

These titles (and many more) are all defined by simple actions. Once you take a photo, you’re a photographer. If go for a run, you’re a runner. It’s a distinction between a dreamer and a doer. It’s a mindset shift from experts to experiences. You don’t need permission or validation or certification or acclaim. You just need to pick up your tools and get to work.

My favorite iPhone apps (2016 edition)

I’m an explorer by nature. I love trying new things and discovering hidden treasures. This extends to every area of my life… Including iPhone apps. When it comes to apps, I’m always on the lookout for something new and exciting. As I write this I’m counting 67 apps installed on my phone (including the default Apple apps).

With all of the exploring, there are a few standouts that last for more than a month or two. These are my favorite iPhone apps right now.

Twitter

I’ve been on Twitter for six years, but it wasn’t until this year that I finally started to ‘get’ it. I made myself a rule that I would respond to every post from every person I follow.

The difference has been night and day. I’m not sure why it took so long for me to catch on to the simple fact: social networks are meant to be social.

Why did Twitter make the list, but not Facebook? I check Facebook once on my laptop and I’m good. Twitter is more immediate, and so the app is more useful.

Snapchat

I love Snapchat. I’ve had so much fun with this app, and definitely seen how it can be used to reach a lot of people in a personal way.

Unfortunately I’ve been totally inactive on my Story for several months because of battery issues with my phone. Still, I’ve continued to use the chat feature almost exclusively, replacing iMessage and Facebook Messenger. Snapchatting is the future, and I’m happy about that.

Enlight

I’ve been a photography buff and photo editor for a long time. I used Photoshop to edit my photos, and I always thought it would be awesome if I could do the same on my iPhone. Then I found Enlight. Enlight has the photo grading tools of Instagram and other stuff, but it also includes cutting, splicing, text overlays, brushes… It’s incredibly full-featured. If you need to create graphics from photos on your iPhone, this is the app for you.

Splice

I use my iPhone to shoot videos, but I always had to upload them to my computer and edit them there. Splice is the solution to that. It’s low on features, but I’m fine with that. All I needed was a way to splice videos together and add background music and a title, and Splice does that flawlessly.

Moment & Focus

I’m grouping these two apps together because they’re made by the same guy and they have the same objective: getting you to be aware of the time spent on your phone. 

I installed Moment to track how much screen time I get in a day. I’m averaging around 2.5 hours on my phone, with some days going as high as 5. 

Focus is similar, but for driving; it tracks how long you’ve driven with your phone screen unlocked, and gives you audio reminders to lock your phone if you’re driving.

I’ll probably remove both of these apps soon, as they’ve done their job. They’re definitely worth it in my estimation. If you do try them out, let me know what your average screen time is.


Apps that I’ve tried this year but didn’t make it to my favorites: Hound, musical.ly, Simple Habit, Telegram, and Anchor.

Apps that I’ve installed but still haven’t used include Service, Google Cardboard, and Gyroscope.

I’m always on the lookout for new iPhone apps to try. Do you have one that you think I should see? Send me a tweet or a Snap and let me know!

Why Businesses Exist

In business, there are a lot of nice-to-haves. As entrepreneurs it’s important that we don’t switch these (admittedly very good) things with what is actually required for a business to exist. When we get confused on this point we can waste a lot of time, energy and money.

Let’s start with a few examples. In conversations about business, I’ve noticed two concepts that are generally presented as being key to starting or running a business: innovation and profit.

Innovation

Also known as the good idea, innovation is by far the most popular explanation of what’s required for a successful business. As a society we’ve done a lot to perpetuate this by idolizing “inventors” and “disruption” as shining examples of business done right.

In reality, almost all of business is based on the same time-tested principles. Boring businesses are often stable and profitable. Attorneys and accountants aren’t usually considered “innovative”. The majority of grocery stores or plumbing service companies don’t get written up in TechCrunch or featured in the latest edition of Inc Magazine, but they exist and thrive. Innovation is commendable, but it’s definitely not a requirement.

Profit

The other example I’ve heard is that to have a business you need to make money. I get the impression this is referring to profit, as most of these discussions tend towards estimating growth potential, plotting charts with rising lines, and generally attempting to predict a rosy future before making the first move.

In fact, it’s quite common for businesses to break even or run a loss for extended periods of time. Startups run on borrowed money for years, often with no revenue model at all. The entire airline industry averages a one percent profit margin. Small businesses with seven-figure revenues operate on annual profits in the fractions of a percent. Many service-based businesses don’t account for profit at all, content with (or resigned to) covering expenses or making payroll. Profit is fantastic and helps to ensure longevity, but it also is not required to start or operate a business.


 

So what is required for a business to exist? It’s actually much simpler than most people seem to think. At it’s simplest, a business exists because of two things: desire and execution.

Desire

The existence of a business is contingent on what someone wants. Desire is a core aspect of human existence. When you satisfy someone’s desire you provide value. The measure of value is relative to how strong the desire was, and how well you fulfilled it. It’s easy to equate value with your product or service itself, but a desire can be satisfied many different ways. It’s also easy to confuse value with cost, but desire is an emotion, not a dollar amount. You may have equipment and employees and products and services, but without desire it’s not a business.

Execution

In order to have a business you must deliver value. Unlike desire, execution is objective and measurable. Until you do the work, you don’t have a business. Period. You can call it an idea, a business plan, a project, a pitch. You can dream about it, write it down, draft up a formal document, even put together a professional slide show extolling its virtues. You can tell your friends, tell your relatives, or tell investors. You can set up an office, appear on Shark Tank, or win scholarships and awards, but until you deliver the value and take home the check, it’s not a business.

The real good news is that value and execution are just as effective at any scale. You can start by providing something valuable for one person today. One person, one transaction, one desire fulfilled, and you’re in business.

Someone cared

I got a call from my insurance company last week. I’ve been “in talks” with them for several months, trying to get a window replaced on my 24-year old sports car after a smash-and-grab in Portland. It’s a long story, but in summary the car is just old enough and just unpopular enough to make this particular piece of glass virtually impossible to find. Nobody makes it, nobody has it and nobody wants it… except me. By the time I got this particular call, I’d estimate that I had spent several hours on the phone with different insurance adjusters, sub-contractors and middle-men, trying to locate this piece of glass. All in all, it has been quite frustrating.

This call started off the same as the rest. The lady on the other end used a very “professional” voice, the type of tone that makes it clear: this voice you hear is not mine. I am a mouthpiece for someone else. Someone who doesn’t have a childhood memory or a favorite ice cream flavor. Someone whose full name includes Corporation. She warned me that this call was being recorded (for quality purposes, of course) and asked one or two standard questions about my claim. But then the call took a surprising turn.

“I’m just calling to apologize for your experience with us recently.” I noticed a distinct change in her voice. The robotic tone started to fade, and her words took on a more personal feel. “The last time you talked to an adjuster, he told you that there was nothing more we could do for you. I’m sorry about that.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond. This was completely unexpected. She went on to explain what they would be able to do for me. Although I had previously been warned by my agent that the insurance company wasn’t responsible for locating obsolete parts, she assured me that they would continue to work with me to locate a supplier and get the glass installed. She mentioned how frustrating it must be to deal with this unusual situation. She checked to be sure I knew what I could do next, and what my new adjuster would do to help me out.

Before she hung up she apologized one last time. It was a straightforward, no-strings-attached “I’m sorry about all this. I hope we can get it fixed soon.”

What’s the result after all that? I’m still left trying to find a near-mystical piece of glass. The car still sits unused. Nothing about my situation changed, so far as tangible, measurable things go. But I wrote to you about it.

Every human interaction is a relationship, whether it’s a friend, a customer, a date, or a complete stranger. Honesty, trust, and empathy make all the difference.