The Wednesday Writeup - Issue #18

Hello, and welcome back to The Wednesday Writeup! We are finally entering the tail end of summer, the hottest average day is behind us, and we are nearly back to the decent, cool, and rainy weather that I so yearn for. I don't know about all of you, but I am really anxious to get into fall.

What I'm Doing

I'm trying to figure out how to approach marketing my app. I have shared it a few times on Twitter, and have a handful of users, but I'm struggling to build up proper momentum. I need to find other forums to share on, write more copy to get users, and generally figure out a better strategy here. This is something I have never done before, and it definitely isn't something I find terribly intuitive. I am revisiting 30x500, but if anyone has any good materials on this topic, let me know!

I started jogging again about three weeks ago. I used to run relatively regularly a few years back, and that culminated with me barely crossing the finish line of a 15k, but after that I "took a break" and never really got back into it again. Now I'm reintroducing it into my schedule, and I'm hoping to approach it with a little more consistency and actually train in a way that is sustainable and will lead to better results. Ideally I would like to be in good enough running shape by next summer that (assuming Americans are allowed overseas again) I can participate in a race in Switzerland. That would entail running about 15 miles through the alps though, which sounds absolutely incredible, but also like something that will require a great deal of improvement to accomplish.

I mentioned last time that I was incorporating more of a planning and reflection process into my weekly routine. So far I have been keeping up with those appointments with myself and it has helped greatly. Already I feel like I have a better grasp of everything that is on my plate, I'm being much more deliberate with how I approach the workload, and I'm forcing myself to make tough decisions as to what should get done and what shouldn't. I still expect the processes to improve over time, and I know I'm not getting as much out of it as I could be yet, but I'm really optimistic about the results so far.

I have been ramping up my usage of a system for productivity called the Pomodoro method. This is a system where you chunk your work into 25 minute sessions with a 5 minute break in between. I have attempted it in the past and it never quite stuck, I didn't like needing to work within the confines of the tools, and I didn't have a structured enough life to really leverage it properly. But now, with regular weekly planning sessions to prioritize at a high level, morning pages to decide on what I will be working on that day, and journaling the things I work on as I do it, I'm now at a point where I have been able to leverage this method to great effect. I don't follow it rigidly, and often if I'm in the flow I won't take a break when I'm supposed to, but having a timer to prompt me to check in on how I'm doing and feeling, and having a minimum time to work on something has been valuable.

Recommendations

I am a big podcast fan. Have been for quite a few years now. It's hard to beat a nice walk out around town on a cool evening listening to an entertaining and educational podcast episode. These are some of my favorite podcasts at the moment.

Cortex

This show is a good one for productivity related topics. One of the hosts is CGP Grey, who is relatively internet famous for his educational youtube videos featuring a well animated stick figure. The other is Myke Hurley, the host of the Relay FM podcast network. Both of them are productivity nerds, and enjoy talking about new stuff released by Apple, todo apps, email, content creation, productivity systems, and other things of that ilk. If you are interested in those sort of things, or if you are a fan of either of these creators, this makes for quite enjoyable listening.

Chase Jarvis Live Show

Chase Jarvis is essentially a creativity trainer. He has a book on creativity, and founded a company (Creative Live) with a huge collection of classes on various creative efforts, from painting, to photography, to starting a business. In his podcast he brings in a wide range of creative experts and talks to them about their craft, their life, how they got started, and what they do on a day to day basis to do what they do. It can get a little repetitive at times because the host has a rather specific mindset about these things, but there is still a lot of value to be had listening to the insights of his guests.

Tim Ferriss Show

I'm sure you all are aware of Tim Ferriss. His books (the 4 hour work week in particular) are hard to ignore in this modern day. I have a love/hate relationship with his stuff. I can very much appreciate the work he puts in to testing things, and trying out numerous different approaches to every aspect of life. But at the same time, the way he presents things sometimes makes him seem a bit like a snake oil salesman. But when he brings on these guests, it becomes very clear that he knows what he is talking about, and is able to dive deep on a huge range of topics with people that are experts in these areas. And some of the guests are big names. Folks like Jamie Foxx and Arnold Shwarzenegger, chess grandmasters, medical experts, and owners of massively successful businesses all have been brought on. And there is lots of great information provided by all of them. Overall it is a super valuable podcast to listen to.

Syntax

This is a bit of a different one, but it is one that has helped me greatly as I have gotten more into web development in the last year or so. Syntax is hosted by two professional web developers named Scott Tolinski and Wes Bos. They are prolific content creators, and along with doing freelance work they both have large catalogs of tutorials and courses they have created. Their podcast has a lot of good information about the technical details of web development, along with tips on using different tools, how to manage life as a web dev, and more. This won't be of much interest for non developers, but even if you work in another area of development there may very well be some good information to be heard.

Hardcore History

This is another one in a completely different vein. Unlike the others, this isn't a discussion based show. This podcast is entirely Dan Carlin talking about different historical topics. These episodes each take a massive amount of research to bring together, and the episodes are many hours each. For example, my favorite so far is the Blueprint for Armageddon series that I listened to a few years back. It is a 6 part series consisting of around 25 hours of in depth content about WW1. Carlin does a great job of combining the statistical facts about these events with on the ground accounts and descriptions of what was really taking place to these individuals. It is a presentation that feels brutally real and is incredibly compelling. The entire backlog isn't available for free at a given time, but there is ~16 hours of content about the Asia-Pacific war available right now, along with a few other episodes on the Spartans, among other things.

Idea of the Week: My 26th Year

Today is my 26th birthday. I figure this would be a great opportunity to reflect on what I have done and learned in this quite interesting last year, and share some of those lessons. This has been a year with a great deal of growth, exploration, self improvement, and change. I made one of the biggest leaps into the unknown that I have ever taken in my life, and although not all of it has gone as planned, I have gotten a lot out of it.

Taking Chances

A year ago, I was still in a comfortable job, with good benefits, in a great city, working on challenging projects alongside a team of talented individuals. From a certain perspective there was very little that I was missing. But it was around this time a year ago that I put in my notice, and began letting my team know that I was going to leave. This may have been crazy, and there are certainly things that I miss, but I don't regret the decision. Although many things were good, they were also stagnating. It had been too long since I had made a significant change in my life, and I was in a rut that I was having trouble pulling myself out of. I was ready for some sort of adventure, and I knew that as long as I had that job I wasn't fully going to get that.

I recognize that I was incredibly fortunate to be in a position where I could take this chance. In terms of scale I know many people can't do what I did. But I would bet there are many people that continue to do things that are steadily less and less satisfying because it has become comfortable, "safe", and the default. My advice here would be to spot those moments and consider when it is time to take a chance and make a change.

Letting Go

Only a few months after I left my job, Covid happened. I had a bunch of plans, things I wanted to do, places I wanted to see, and very little of it ended up happening. For a while I struggled to think about what I even wanted to do with my life because of that. My entire purpose of leaving was to have this grand adventure, go see places, and meet people. So for a while I held onto that hope, held onto the idea of what I originally thought it could be. But eventually I realized that it was something I would have to just let go.

Since then I have been able to settle into a routine, find a place more local to spend my time in fulfilling ways, and generally start creating a new life for myself. It isn't what I wanted, it certainly isn't what I expected, but it is good. I don't regret the time I took still on the fence, I got good things done, and still made progress, but if I had allowed myself to let go more quickly I probably could be in an even slightly better position right now.

Managing Expectations

The flip side of letting go is managing expectations. It is incredibly easy to feel like things have to go a certain way, and have an idea in mind of what we will be able to accomplish. Many of these things won't go as planned, may not go well, and may not gain the traction that we might hope. Although it is good to set lofty goals, and envision where you want to be, don't hold those goals or that specific vision on a pedestal. Instead use those as guideposts to build systems that guide your life. Focus your expectations on achievable day to day processes and routines, strive to accomplish those, and don't worry as much about the end result. Things take time, and small results compound, not in a way that is immediately visible, but in a way that can eventually take you where you want to be.

Accountability on my Own

This is the first time in my life that I haven't had some level of "superior" in my life to keep me accountable. Growing up it was my parents. In college it was my professors. And then at work I had bosses. For the last year, I have had nobody to hold me accountable to get things done, tell me to make progress in any particular area, or even look over my work and give me guidance. This has been a weird feeling, a little bit scary, and something I have definitely had to work through. 10 months later, I have gotten better at being my own accountability person. I make plans, I record my progress, I review that progress, and I try to treat myself fairly and hold myself to a decent standard. I still struggle with this to a certain degree, but there are a few things that help greatly:

  • Regular planning and reflection sessions. This helps to recalibrate and direct my energies in an effective way. Without this, it is incredibly easy to spend time on things that aren't important, or spend too much time every day deciding how to even spend my time.

  • Mindfulness via writing. I have a couple of journaling habits that I have picked up in the last four months that are proving to be incredibly impactful. Most mornings I do a morning pages session, where I sit down and try to write up to ~750 words about how I'm feeling, what is happening in my life, and what I want out of my day. I have never had much success with meditation, but doing this writing session gives me a very similar result, it allows me to focus on awareness of myself, and avoid allowing myself to wandering aimlessly. Throughout the day I also try to stay calibrated by actively interstitial journaling. I make records throughout the day with a timestamp and a brief blurb about what I'm doing and what I will do next. By establishing that habit I intentionally can shift my attention away from distractions and back towards what I should be doing.

  • Accountability partners. Even if you don't have a boss, doesn't mean you can't bring people in to keep you accountable. I have had a couple different iterations of this since leaving. I took a couple of classes that had assignments to complete and sessions to attend, and so I felt some sense of accountability to the teachers and other students. Then I spent a few months with a weekly session with a writing partner to make sure I spent at least a few hours a week on dedicated writing. And now most recently I joined a retrospective group hosted by a friend I made in one of those classes, and in this small group we have a slack channel to chat about things, and we meet every 2 weeks to check in on what went well, what went poorly, and what we want to change. All of these have helped a great deal in different ways.

Location of the Week: Seattle, Washington

I realized I haven't yet published any photos from the city that I called home for over 7 years. I moved to Seattle in September of 2012 to go to University of Washington, and after spending three years there, I spent another 4 years there working at the Facebook office until October 2019. Sometimes I wonder why I left, because it is really an incredible city. At the time I didn't really think I would be spending much more time in the states, if I had known that travel would be off the table so much going forward, I'm not sure I would have left. The city is green, with lots of great parks and integration with nature. It is big, but not too big, so there are things to do without it being overwhelming. And for me, the weather is wonderful. It still gets a little too hot in the summer but the rainy seasons are nice and long.

I still don't think I regret leaving, because I was too much in a rut there, but there are certainly many things I miss. If you ever have the opportunity to visit, I would definitely recommend it.

Signing off until next week
- Aengus McMillin