Index on what you can’t easily compare

Here are a few things you can easily compare:

  • The status conferred by your role or company or degree
  • The number of products you shipped
  • Your car
  • The amount of press you’ve received
  • The size of your home
  • The number of likes you receive on your social media shares

Here are a few things you can’t easily compare:

  • The strength of your closest relationships
  • Your sense of self worth
  • The amount of undivided attention you’re able to give to the folks who matter to you
  • How much you have learnt about topics that matter to you
  • Your self awareness and thoughtfulness
  • The impact you’ve had – both in terms of breadth and depth
  • The amount of time you are able to dedicate to deep, uninterrupted work

We are wired to compare and compete. We compare and compete because we tell ourselves the story that winning in these things matter.

But, they don’t. The trophies we collect from these are fake and the joy they bring disappears in a few hours – like leprechaun gold.

In the long run, it is the things that we can’t easily compare that bring us meaning and happiness.

When in doubt, index on what you can’t easily compare.

Dollar per use and spending principles

There’s a few simple principles I’ve come to appreciate when it comes to spending money. The latest edition to that list is the idea of Dollar per use.

Here’s what my list roughly looks like –

  1. Frugal and proud. 🙂
  2. Spend on experiences (e.g. a wonderful vacation) versus things. Thus, money spent to treat friends and family is generally money well spent.
  3. Don’t overthink spending on learning or fitness. These are the most important investments you will make.
  4. For items that can be given away (such as clothes), make sure you give an item away for every item you buy.
  5. Consider dollar per use. If you are going to use a shoe every day, for example, it is worth investing in a good one. 

I’ve pushed frugality too far in the past and skimped on everyday items. But, no more. The dollar per use idea will hopefully set that right.

Biodiversity, periodic disturbances and our creativity

In the 1950s, Biologist Joseph Connell ventured from California to Australia to understand what causes the biodiversity in coral reefs and rainforests. In particular, he wanted to understand why some landscapes exhibited vast biodiversity, with hundreds of species living side by side, while other landscapes only a few miles away exhibited homogeneity, with a few species dominating.

It seemed as if nature’s creative capacities depended on some kind of periodic disturbance  –  like a tree fall or an occasional storm  – that temporarily upset the natural environment. But, the disturbance couldn’t be too small or too big. It had to be just the right size. ‘Intermediate disturbances are critical,’ said Connell to Charles Duhigg when he interviewed him for his book “Smarter, Faster, Better.”

Within biology, this has become known as the intermediate disturbance hypothesis, which holds that ‘local species diversity is maximized when ecological disturbance is neither too rare nor too frequent.’”

This has lots of interesting parallels. For example, during the ideation process at Disney/Pixar, they make sure they create small disturbances within the team (e.g. changing the team leader) when there’s a feeling that everyone is stuck. Similarly, brainstorming sessions work well when you change things up a bit – move to a different location, use a different format, etc.

There’s a wonderful life lesson in here as well – a little bit of disruption every once a while keeps us fresh and creative. So, if you’re not looking forward to an upcoming disruption of your usual weekly or weekend routine, just remember that it is likely better in the long run.

Your environment versus your willpower

If you live in a room full of unhealthy food and five large televisions, it is only a matter of time before you begin consuming both.

In a battle between your willpower and the environment, the environment always wins in the long run.

So, if you are trying to change behavior, you are always better off altering the environment over testing your willpower. If you are trying to stop playing games on your phone, delete the gaming apps. If you are trying to eat healthy, surround yourself with healthy food. If you are trying to read more, make sure you have books easily accessible.

Don’t waste your willpower on battles with the environment. Use your limited willpower to create better environments and better habits instead.

News and essential newsletters

I am not a big fan of the news as it nearly always leaves me feeling worse at the end of engaging with it. Avoiding the news isn’t the solution, however. So, my approach has been to rely on newsletters.

I love newsletters. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone as I send a daily newsletter (this blog) and a bi-weekly newsletter (The Notes by Ada Project) myself. I wouldn’t do it to others if I didn’t love it myself. 🙂

So, here are a few of the newsletters I make sure I read. Some of these are about the news. But, mostly, they’re just great pieces of content.

Every morning
1. The Quartz Daily Brief: Love the news and the collection of interesting content from the internet that they share between Monday-Saturday.
2. The Economist Espresso: More news focused. High quality. Delivered Monday-Saturday. Thanks Federico (a reader who since begins most emails introducing himself as the guy who suggested The Economist Espresso :-)), for recommending this.
3. Stratechery by Ben Thompson: Excellent tech newsletter. I pay for the subscription and receive 4 articles per week. It is well worth it.
4. Seth Godin’s blog: The best blog there is. Delivers every day.

Weekend reads
1. Benedict Evans’ Newsletter: A few links that summarize interesting/big movements in tech from the week.
2. The Exponential View by Azeem Azhar: A collection of interesting links on a varied set of topics. I’ve just begun subscribing to this over the past month and have found the collection fascinating.

There are many other blogs I read of course (I’ll share the list another time) but these are my essentials. I feel the day/week is incomplete if I haven’t read these.

I hope you find the list useful.

Working hard at life

When speaking about their ongoing fight with cancer, a friend said this to me the other day – “We all are afflicted by a terminal disease. We just don’t know the end date.”

I’ve been pondering that comment and the big accompanying question – “how will I measure my life when that happens?”

“Working hard at life” is the response that inevitably comes back to me. I love going to bed knowing I’ve done my best in every aspect of life that I deem important.

There’s a lot of talk about working smart and how some people manage to do it all with minimal effort. I’ve just never seen any evidence of that in my life.

Everything worth having has taken effort. Everything worth having has also involved trade offs. Sure, I’ve gotten better at doing some of these things, making some of these decisions and weighing the trade offs. In some cases, I do work a lot smarter than I used to. But, even that came after putting in the hard work first, reflecting on the process and intentionally getting better. And, all of this while having access to unique privilege – being born out of poverty – and being blessed with adequate mental capacity.

Maybe there are a select few who can manage to work smart and do it all. But, for the rest of us, we have a limited amount of time and a reservoir of energy (that can, thankfully, be replenished with activity, food and rest) to work hard on whatever we choose to work hard at.

We have an opportunity to recognize that we have the power to choose, to choose and to work hard at whatever we choose. This opportunity is a privilege. It is on us to choose. And, in time, learn to choose well.

I choose to work hard at life.

I hope you choose what matters to you too.

Together, I hope we make this privilege count.

Thought-action gap

At some point 2 years or so ago, I wrote about wanting to spend more time writing about technology on this blog. So, I tried finding ways to do it. Initially, it was a weekly post reviewing products combined with the occasional technology musing. Then, it was trying to get a post out once a week on a technology topic. At some point along the way, I gave up.

But, I didn’t stop thinking about writing about technology.

I reflected on this after I shared my first post on thinking about technology products two days ago. I’m beginning to get into a cadence where my Sunday (via the “Notes by Ada” project) and Wednesday posts (“Thinking Product”) are about technology. For the “Notes by Ada” project, I’ve gotten into the cadence of primarily posting them on LinkedIn and Medium as I was keen to experiment on those platforms and post a summary here. I toyed with keeping it completely separate. But, I realized it was too much cognitive load to expect myself to write an extra non-tech post on Sundays for this blog. For the “Thinking Product” series, I intend to start here and cross-post to both those platforms. I’ve come to think of this blog as the hub for all my learning projects and it is thus inevitable that what I write about changes with what I’m learning.

The interesting question here is – why did it take 2 years for me to move from thought to action on writing about technology? Here are 3 lessons I’ve taken away from this –

  1. Ability gap. I’ve learnt that learning comes from the process of synthesis. Synthesis is different from summarizing things in that a summary involves notes about what I’ve read or heard. A synthesis, on the other hand, requires me to add a frame to it and bring in my point-of-view post reflecting on a topic. It has taken me a while to develop that point of view.

    I’ve come to appreciate the importance of the ability gap. Things get done quickly if you are both willing and able. If not, you need to spend time building up your abilities.

  2. Patience. That, in turn, means being patient with yourself. This combination of a lack of ability and a lack of patience is why new year’s resolutions fail. When we commit to a new habit on new year’s day, we forget that we don’t yet have the ability to form that new exercise habit. It takes patience and a requirement that you are kind to yourself along the way.
  3. Structure. Finally, the best way to help the learning process is to create structure around it. In this case, it helps me to think of Sunday as the day I write broadly about what is going in technology and Wednesday, for example, where I write about products. Of course, I don’t do all my thinking and writing on the same day (at least, not always). But, the structure greatly simplifies things and helps create a habit in the long run.

There’s a school of thought which says that you’ll find a way to do anything that you really want to do. I definitely subscribe to that as that desire helps you commit to improving your abilities. But, the caveat I’d add is that it requires a lot of thought about structure and a ton of patience around the way.

Finally, if you’re thinking of adding new habits into your life, account for the thought-action gap. Sometimes, it takes longer than 2 years to get the process working…